Maryland's seniors trying to leave their marker

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Sports,College,Kevin Dunleavy

Final opponent at Byrd is No. 10 Florida State

On a mound near the entrance of the Maryland football practice field are 10 tombstones that read "R.I.P." and commemorate wins over teams ranked in the top 10. The marble markers are showing some wear. The Terrapins haven't added one since a 2007 upset of Matt Ryan and Boston College.

It's a hole in the resume of Maryland's seniors, who get one last chance to play at Byrd Stadium, add a tombstone and keep their flickering bowl hopes alive Saturday against No. 10 Florida State (9-1, 6-1).

"I was here the last tombstone game," defensive end A.J. Francis said. "Maryland beat Matty Ice and Boston College. I was on the field, running out of the stands. Hopefully I can get another moment like that."

Up next
No. 10 Florida State at Maryland
When » Saturday, noon
Where » Byrd Stadium
TV » ESPNU

Francis and the rest of the Maryland seniors were in high school on that memorable Saturday night in November when the Terps toppled BC 42-35, intercepting Ryan twice. There have been plenty of satisfying moments since.

Francis mentioned sending former coach Ralph Friedgen out with a victory in the 2010 Military Bowl, two successful trips to Charlottesville, a goal-line stand in a 2010 win over Navy in Baltimore and a 2010 victory at Byrd Stadium against ranked N.C. State that knocked the Wolfpack out of the ACC title game.

Saturday is another opportunity for the Terps (4-6, 2-4) to eliminate a team from the conference title picture. Maryland has done it before to Florida State, upsetting the No.?5 Seminoles in 2004, earning a tombstone and paving the way for Virginia Tech to capture the conference title. This time, defending ACC champion Clemson (9-1, 6-1) needs a Florida State loss to advance to the ACC championship.

"This game could change how we're seen for the rest of our career," Francis said. "If we beat Florida State this week though, they'll put a statue up of us at Clemson."

It won't be easy against the most complete team in the conference. Florida State ranks first or second in the ACC in every statistical measure of offense and defense (points, total yards, rushing yards, passing yards). Quarterback EJ Manuel is second in pass efficiency (169.3). Running back Chris Thompson ranks second in rushing (85.9 yards per game). Defensive ends Cornellius Carradine and Bjoern Werner are 1-2 in sacks.

"We gotta run the ball effectively and set up the pass," senior offensive tackle Justin Gilbert said. "Probably the biggest thing -- just stay on the field."

That will be a tall order with emergency quarterback Shawn Petty making his third start. In lopsided defeats, the freshman linebacker actually has acquitted himself surprisingly well, completing 15 of 30 passes for 156 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.

On Tuesday, coach Randy Edsall talked of the seniors having "two games left in their careers," seemingly discounting the possibility of winning both and advancing to a bowl game. The Terps seniors, however, are embracing the long odds.

"The season didn't unfold the way we planned it to," Francis said. "We gotta fight our way back. We gotta beat Florida State. We never got a tombstone."

kdunleavy@washingtonexaminer.com

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