Different Season, Same Story

The leather covering the outside of the oblong ball is the same, the pigskin is still the same size, and the laces on the top are exactly the same size, but for some unexplainable reason, West Virginia simply cannot keep the grip on the football when it plays in a bowl.

An above average turnover margin is what allowed the Blue & Gold to finish the season strongly, and it was that same statistic that doomed them in the first contest of 2004. WVU put the ball on the natural grass at Alltel Stadium twice in the opening quarter and the Terps capitalized on the second to open up an early lead and bring back the nightmarish memories of the season's first clash with Maryland. The turnovers led to an ugly 41-7 loss and put an end to any confidence that was still present on the West Virginia sideline.

The worst thing that could have happened to Rodriguez's troops was to fall behind early, but that is exactly what happened. Despite running the ball at will in the early part of the contest, Kay-Jay Harris and Rasheed Marshall both coughed it up on first down runs, and the Terps were always there to scoop it up. The rushing game, clearly West Virginia's bread and butter, was then became ineffective as Rasheed Marshall and the WVU offense tried to climb out of the early hole with flashbacks to the September 20th trouncing still dancing through its craniums. The first quarter ended with West Virginia trailing 10-0, and it would only get worse.

Maryland opened period two by sticking a dagger in the Mountaineer hopes with a 76-yard punt return from Steve Suter. The scoring scamper, the sixth touchdown return of the junior's career, put the Terrapins up 17-0, and the heads dropped like flies on the WVU sideline. The game was over at that point, but unfortunately for the athletes in gold and blue there were still more than 43 minutes left to be played.

Maryland added one final score on before the halftime gun on a 22 yard touchdown lob from Scott McBrien to Jafar Williams, the second such score of the half, and after West Virginia kicker Brad Cooper failed on a 41-yard field goal attempt, Maryland entered the lockerroom with a 24-0 advantage.

The second half brought about more of the same as Scott McBrien again punished his former teammates, this time with his feet. A two-yard scoring to the left corner of the endzone capped an 11-play 79-yard drive and extended the UM lead to 31-0. Many of the more than 78,000 fans that packed Alltel Stadium started to head toward the exits and the celebration began for the red clad fans that had been outnumbered all week long and relished the opportunity to have the upper hand on their unhappy rivals from Morgantown.

West Virginia's only production of the afternoon came on the ensuing possession as the Mountaineers moved the ball with little trouble, and this time managed to hold on to the pigskin and avoid penalties. A 30-yard rush from superback Kay-Jay Harris highlighted the drive, and a 15-yard scamper from quarterback Rasheed Marshall put a tally on the WVU side of the board for the first and only time of the afternoon.

A dull flicker of hope suddenly appeared on the West Virginia sideline, but the spark lasted about as long as a Travis Garvin suspension. WVU lined up to kick the ball off and surprised the Terps with an onside attempt toward the Maryland sideline. The ball bounced perfectly toward the waiting arms of WVU cornerback Pacman Jones, but the sophomore handled the bounce like Bill Buckner on a ground ball and the pigskin rolled harmlessly to the Maryland sideline.

The field position was changed, however, when a Maryland assistant joined one of his players in giving Pacman a not so friendly shove. The resulting 15 yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty backed the Terrapins up to their own 25. But as they had done all afternoon, the UM offense marched down the field like a band in a parade on the strength of two long McBrien throws, and Nick Novak connected on a 24 yard boot to push the advantage to 34-7, the identical score that they posted on the Mountaineers just over three months before.

The pass happy Terrapins would add one more score on a 14 yard toss from McBrien to J.J. Walker, creating the final lopsided score of 41-7. It was celebration time on the Maryland sideline as head coach Ralph Friedgen was presented with a shower from the water cooler and a mocking version of Country Roads rang through the Maryland cheering section. Many of the Mountaineer reserves saw action in the closing minutes, but did not fare much better as the Terps carried home the Gator Bowl trophy after a convincing win.

Former Mountaineer Scott McBrien earned player of the game honors, after throwing for 381 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for another. Bruce Perry kept the West Virginia defense honest with 67 of Maryland's 141 yards on the ground.

It was an unhappy New Year for the Mountaineers as nearly every bounce went the way of the turtle. The Terrapins put the ball on the ground five times, but recovered each time. West Virginia managed only nine first downs while giving up 522 yards of total offense to its ACC enemies. The loss closed out the WVU season with an 8-5 record, and will surely drop the Mountaineers from the national polls. The pounding also drops West Virginia's all-time post-season record to 8-15 and its Gator Bowl mark to 0-4.


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