Instant Analysis: North Carolina-Maryland

Staff Columnist
Posted Nov 15, 2008

In a game where two offenses moved the ball slowly, Maryland knew it had North Carolina in a tight spot. A slow-tempo game, after all, is the ultimate domain of a Turtle.

In the first 16 minutes and 14 seconds of Saturday's crucial ACC encounter between two division leaders, the Terps and Tar Heels tallied 26 total points and moved downfield with appreciable ease. The Tar Heels caught lightning on a 59-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Cameron Sexton to receiver Cooter Arnold, while Maryland accumulated 13 first downs on two flawless scoring marches. It looked as though this game was going to bring a flood of points before the afternoon was over in College Park.

Instead, it produced a flood of precipitation, causing the wells to run dry for both Butch Davis and Ralph Friedgen.

The final 43 minutes and 46 seconds of (in)action witnessed a complete slowdown, as the two offenses that took flight at Byrd Stadium came crashing down to earth. Passes became perilous, the football turned slippery, and field position acquired maximum importance in a rain-filled rumble. The turn of events had a lot to do with the wet weather, but the players on the field—in their first ACC race after their programs had struggled in previous seasons—also succumbed to psychological pressures. With Carolina tallying a lonesome field goal late in the second quarter to take a 15-14 lead, it seemed entirely realistic to think that that one-point lead could hold up throughout the second half.

Given the fact that the Tar Heels enjoyed superior field position in the third and fourth quarters—yet were unable to convert short fields into points—it seemed that Maryland, while thoroughly competitive, would not end up on the sunshine side of this vitally important contest. Someone had to make a splash in slick conditions in order for the Terps to triumph, and with their chances dwindling, receiver Ronnie Tyler became the man who would beat the Tar out of the Heels.

With roughly six minutes left in regulation time, and that nagging extra point still sitting on Carolina's side of the ledger, Tyler did something tremendous on a third-and-10 for Maryland near midfield. UM quarterback Chris Turner zinged a pass toward the left hash marks, with a UNC defender providing superb coverage. Tyler had to catch a difficult ball in traffic at an odd angle, and that's exactly what he did. Displaying remarkable hands, amazing dexterity, and a large dose of toughness, Tyler leaped to make an improbable catch before enduring mid-air contact and then slamming into the ground with a hard thud, all while keeping the pigskin firmly tucked into his right arm. The astounding grab pulled the Terps out of their third-and-long ditch, and gave the home team a first down at the Carolina 37. In that moment, Maryland men and women began to sense that their beloved boys would finally score again, for the first time since the second minute of the second quarter.

That sense would prove to be accurate.

Turner and the rest of the Maryland offense smartly moved to the Carolina 8, where kicker Obi Egekeze banged in a 26-yard field goal with 1:39 left to give the Terps their first score in nearly three full quarters. On most days, three points in three quarters leads to a loss, but because of the perseverance and pluck displayed by their defense, Ralph Friedgen's recruits stuck their Turtle noses in front. When Maryland defender Jamari McCollough picked off Sexton in the final minute, the deed had been done, and Team Tortoise had held off the Tar Heeled hare.

Maryland's entire defense deserved the game ball after this ballsy and brawny display, but the Terps wouldn't have taken this tilt without one memorable catch by Ronnie Tyler. The receiver's rousing play was as significant on the scoreboard as it was athletically impressive, and because of that bit of crunch-time courage, the Terps will now host Florida State next week, with the ACC Atlantic Division championship at stake.

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