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STEVE DESHAZO: Ugly victories are still good to wins-starved Terrapins

COLLEGE PARK, Md.—Aside from the result, there couldn’t have been a more marked difference in the mood at Byrd Stadium after Maryland’s 2012 opener compared to 2011’s début.

A year ago, wearing gaudy new uniforms, the Terrapins beat one of nation’s most-storied programs, Miami, on national television. Optimism was high, and new coach Randy Edsall didn’t seem inclined to suppress it. But Maryland proceeded to lose 10 of its final 11 games, and Edsall’s approval rating, even among alumni, was lower than Barack Obama’s at a Clint Eastwood dinner party.

Fast forward 362 days, and the mood was a bit more subdued after Maryland’s come-from-behind 7–6 squeaker over William & Mary, a Football Championship Subdivision program coming off a 5–6 season.

The dominant emotion, according to senior receiver Kevin Dorsey, was “relief.”

“It’s basically a monkey-off-your-back-type feeling,” senior linebacker Demetrious Hartsfield said. “We like the feeling of winning again.”

No one is envisioning bowl scenarios, as they did last Labor Day night. If anything, Saturday’s result only ensured Maryland won’t go winless. The Terps committed four turnovers and three pass-interference penalties (all on Stafford graduate Dexter McDougle), and needed to cobble together a fourth-quarter touchdown drive to avoid an appearance in the early blocks of the highlight shows.

In fact, if Dorsey hadn’t slipped a tackle attempt by Massaponax graduate DeAndre Houston–Carson on a key third-down catch; if freshman Nathan Renfro hadn’t pinned the Tribe on its 2 with a 60-yard fourth-quarter punt; and if William & Mary’s only penalty of the game hadn’t stalled a potential go-ahead drive; the mood might have been decidedly different.

But these Terps aren’t going to reject any victory, even an unaesthetic one.

“It’s absolutely huge,” Dorsey said. “We’ve got a lot to clean up offensively, but we’re 1–0. By the end of the season, no one will remember the score of the first game.”

Well, they might—if the Terps don’t win again. But Edsall is convinced that true freshman quarterback Perry Hills will learn from his trial by fire. Facing a litany of blitzes from the Tribe’s aggressive defense, he threw three interceptions. But teammates said Hills never lost his poise, and he went 3 for 4 on Maryland’s game-winning 10-play, 69-yard drive.

Edsall doesn’t think McDougle will suffer through another day as bad as Saturday, when he drew three flags (two of them questionable) and was beaten several times, including once when the Tribe’s Raphael Ortiz barely overthrew a wide-open Ryan Moody in the game’s final minutes.

Said McDougle: “I never got my head down, and the defense stepped up and won the game.”

And Edsall plans to integrate true freshman Stefon Diggs into his offense more and more as the season progresses.

Diggs, a five-star recruit, caught three passes for 30 yards and returned three punts for 50 yards, and each time he touched the ball, there was an electric feel in the stadium that Torrey Smith and Darrius Heyward–Bey never produced.

Edsall insists this young team will get better—unlike last year, when things fell apart quickly. In fact, he said, “I think this kind of game is better for us than a blowout. You learn more about yourselves in a game like this than if you have a blowout.”

Winning blowouts should be the least of Edsall’s concerns. Getting win No. 2 will be challenge enough.

“It’s two totally different situations,” senior guard Bennett Fulper said, comparing week one moods of the past two seasons. “With this one, every week we know we have to work to get better. It’s totally different from last year.”

Steve DeShazo: 540/374-5443

sdeshazo@freelancestar.com

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