The Art of a Turnaround

Why the Terps say they're a different team than last year.

Fourth-and-one, three points away from blowing a 14-point lead at the half and every player on the field knew the game was at stake.

As expected, a handoff to Boston College workhorse Montel Harris followed. He was short. The play was made, the game was over and the win was in sight.

The fourth-down defensive stop by the Terrapins was the third time of its kind this season. It was started by Kenny Tate against Navy, continued by Antwine Perez and carried out once again Saturday by Joe Vellano.

“Fourth down is: you get it all or you get nothing. You give it all and you get off the field,” Tate said. “We take pride in trying to get off the field in the clutch situations.”

Perhaps more than anything, Maryland’s consistently staunch fourth-down defense best symbolizes the team’s turnaround in 2010. The difference: the heart, vigor and grasp of the circumstances that the Terps display when they need it the most.

“That’s more of a testimony to our kids than our scheme. Our scheme is good but you’ve got to execute it,” Maryland head coach Ralph Friedgen said Tuesday. “Last year [Harris] would have made that first down.”

A 2-10 campaign in 2009 caused many to question the Terps’ 4-2 record heading into their matchup with Boston College Saturday. But in a week exhausted with emotions, the team prevailed. Through injuries, road woes and heavy hearts, the Terps prevailed.

The team dedicated their 24-21 victory to right tackle Pete DeSouza, who remains hospitalized with multiple fractures in both legs after being struck by a vehicle while riding his motor scooter Thursday evening, hours away before the team traveled to Chestnut Hill, Mass.

While the team was saddened by the loss of their teammate and their friend, they realized football wasn’t going to stop. They had lost their second offensive tackle this season, and were forced to reshuffle the line yet against.

“We’ve probably overcome more adversity this year on the offensive side of the ball than we even had last year,” offensive coordinator James Franklin said, alluding to the loss of left tackle Justin Gilbert and DeSouza, as well as mixing and matching the other positions. “I don’t think there are too many teams in the county that can lose their two tackles; that’s going to cause you problems.”

Like a boxer in the 13th round, Maryland keeps rolling with the punches. Bruised, beaten down and unsure of how much more they can endure, the team keeps lacing up the gloves and heading to the center of the ring. In 2009, the fighter may have quit, given up, been down for the count. Now, they are playing the role of Sugar Ray Leonard versus last year’s Roberto Duran.

“It shows a lot of character to be able to battle back and fight against all the odds that are given to us. We’re not going to let the unfortunate injuries that have fallen upon us be an excuse to not get the job done,” left tackle R.J. Dill said. “The bottom line is we got to get the job done – the fans expect it, the coaches expect it. We expect to win.”

Dill, as well as Paul Pinegar, represents the versatility of this team as well as anybody. Eleven straight starts at right tackle ended when Dill had to take over left tackle duties when Gilbert was injured against West Virginia. Pinegar, a redshirt senior, has manned every position along the offensive line. After starting the season at center, he finds himself filling in for DeSouza at right tackle.

With just one more win away from becoming bowl-eligible, the Terps are on the verge of reaching their fourth of six goals Friedgen outlined before the season. Settling, however, would not be the style of the team – not this season. They want to prove they go the distance.

“It’s a big jump from last year the way you look it. We’re not satisfied at six [wins], but getting six is good,” Joe Vellano said.

Earlier in the week, Friedgen approached his team, setting the table for what the rest of the season entails. “All the hard you’ve done from last February until now; it really comes down to these next weeks. Here’s where we need to be pouring it on; not backing off. Here’s where we need to be more motivated than ever,” was the message he relayed to his team.

As the winning grows more infectious, the games naturally become more important. For a team coming off a two-win season, with its sixth in their sights, the Terrapins are showing that despite the names being the same on the back of their jerseys, this is a different team.

They are fighters, plain and simple.

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