Tech Drops the Ball to Maryland 20-17 in OT

Losses hurt but missed opportunities not taken have really added salt to Tech's self-inflicted wounds. The Jackets led the ACC in turnover ratio last year, a proud achievement that spoke volumes of their efforts as coaches and players. Against Maryland Thursday night, Tech fans were left to sit and squirm through a Twilight Zone of six Jacket giveaways and a couple more near misses. Perhaps it was only fitting the game ended the way it did.

I guess I should start by mentioning that you don't deserve to win any game in which you commit six turnovers. And I really feel it's fitting to use the word commit here. You commit suicide. You commit turnovers.

Self-destructive football teams, of course, are painful to watch, especially ones that have sixteen returning starters back from a year ago. But Ramblin' Wreck Nation was ready to accept a "narrow escape" 17-14 victory when the final 86 seconds or so of regulation began to play out.

Joe Burns made the critical mistake of running out of bounds with 1:26 to play, a gift the time-out-less Terps gratefully received. Then, after the Jackets installed their best Tennessee Volunteer prevent defense, Maryland drove down to the Tech 29, allowing erratic Maryland PK Nick Novak to kick an improbable 46-yard field goal to send the game to overtime. After a newly confident Novak booted the Terps to a 20-17 lead in OT, the Jackets were in a seemingly high percentage position to win the game. But their second OT play was fumbled by the usually reliable Burns and the game was over. And that, my friends, was the problem. The usually reliable were not reliable in this game. The Jackets led the ACC in turnover ratio a year ago. They are not apparently going to do the same in 2001.

But let's not take anything away from Coach Ralph Friedgen, Terps Defensive Coordinator Gary Blackney, and the huge force that the Dream Season Intangible has become for these upstarts from Maryland. These Terrapins played a more focused and confident game than the Jackets. They now lead the nation in turnover ratio and that is never a fluke. They pressured Tech QB Godsey relentlessly all night and that certainly contributed to some of the Jackets' ineffective play.

But the most interesting and exciting intangible in sports --especially in college football-- is this Dream Season, Cinderella thing that is now happening to Maryland. (It happened to the Jackets, of course, in 1990.) And even though it will probably end sometime over the next few games, the Terps are entering the unfamiliar territory of BCS bowls and a showdown with FSU (October 27) that will be intriguing to watch. I, for one, am going to be very conflicted as I try and figure out who to root for in that one.When it comes to the Cinderella season, it's much better to be a perp than a victim.

The real disappointment for Tech fans, of course, is the way the team has performed in two close, important home conference games. Teams with this much experience and leadership are supposed to win these close games. Turnovers are a result of a lack of focus and concentration. Thursday night the Jackets appeared to have suffered through some sort of collective team-wide ADD moment. But I'm sure Coach O'Leary is more concerned with improving the blocking than with handing out ritalin to his troops.

Yes, the Jackets executed valiant comebacks in both losses this season, but they still dropped the ball in the end.


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