Turtles blow by Heels, 59-21

Mason's kickoff return

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Following two consecutive weeks in which North Carolina played well enough to win, but suffered heartbreaking losses in each of the game's closing seconds, the defense took a big step back Saturday, as the Tar Heels were throttled at Maryland, 59-21.

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    The Terps (6-3, 3-2 ACC) overcame a 21-14 deficit, to score 31 unanswered points and head to the locker room at intermission up by three touchdowns, a field goal and three extra points.

    The 45 points allowed in the half by the Tar Heels (1-8, 0-5 ACC) were the most ever in school history, with Maryland scoring on every offensive possession. The Terps' 39-second quarter points set an ACC record.

    "We played a quarter and a half of football," UNC coach John Bunting said. "After that it got very ugly. I'm very disappointed for the Tar Heel faithful. I don't have an explanation, but I take responsibility for not getting the team ready to play."

    Except for a couple of early goal line stands to force field goals, the Carolina defense was whipped about as soundly as…well as early as one year before, when Maryland fell behind 7-0 and then ran off 59 unanswered points to hand UNC its worst defeat ever in Kenan Stadium.

    Bunting is now 0-3 versus the Ralph Friedgen-led Terrapins, by a combined score of 141-35.

    And the superlatives continued, for Maryland that is.

    Quarterback Scott McBrien completed 15 of 25 passes for a career-high 349 yards and four touchdowns – he also rushed for two scores.

    "I felt like I didn't have anything to lose," McBrien said. "That's how I approached this game today. I was very loose and I was just going out there and throwing the ball and I wasn't worried if it was going to be caught, dropped or intercepted. I went out there and winged it."

    So much for the advantages of the uncluttered mind, a luxury that UNC's Darian Durant couldn't afford to possess. Durant threw for 209 yards and a touchdown – a 52-yard shovel pass to Chad Scott – but he also threw two interceptions.

    "We saw early that we could make plays against their defense," Durant said. "It was just a matter of us [failing to] execute. We just have to play both the sides of the ball. The defense has to stop people and the offense has to score. We started off real well in the first quarter, but we just didn't finish the game."

    Tailback Bruce Perry ran for a season-high 96 yards on 17 carries and wide receiver Latrez Harrison caught four passes for 54 yards and two touchdowns.

    But Carolina's fortunes turned dour in lightning quick fashion. In an 8:44 span of the second quarter, UNC went from leading by a touchdown to the posterior end of a 45-21 laugher with 30 minutes still left to play.

    Both teams began the game rushing the ball effectively. Maryland ran the same play eight out of its first nine plays to Perry for successful yardage up the middle to start the game. Finally, Carolina's defense managed to fill the middle rushing lanes and the Terps' drive stalled with Alden Blizzard's fourth sack in just his second start.

    Following a Nick Novak 24-yard field goal, the Tar Heels drove 58 yards in 11 plays, and took a 7-3 lead with a three-yard touchdown run by Scott and a Dan Orner extra point.

    Maryland quickly moved down to the Carolina three-yard line on its next possession, set up by a 55-yard reception by Derrick Fenner. But again, Carolina held on third down with a fierce safety blitz by Dexter Reid that forced McBrien to overthrow Jo Jo Walker in the corner of the end zone and force the Terps to settle for another Novak chip shot.

    Then on the ensuing kickoff, Mike Mason took the ball and faked a reverse to Michael Waddell, and then shook member after member of the Terps' coverage unit en route to a 96-yard touchdown return.

    "It came to me and I was kind of shocked," Mason said. "I just went ahead and faked the reverse and I guess they fell for it. I saw the kicker and I had to make a move on him."

    Mason's touchdown marked only the second time that the Tar Heels have had two kickoff returns for touchdown in the same season. Waddell ran one back 97 yards to paydirt earlier this year at Wisconsin.

    Despite a Maryland 186-73 total yards of offense advantage and a 10:22 to 4:28 lead in time of possession, Carolina found itself ahead 14-6 at the end of the first quarter.

    But the UNC exuberance would not last long as the Terps would convert on their third straight drive with a McBrien six-yard keeper, and then tie the score when McBrien found Steve Suter across the middle for the two-point conversion.

    Four plays later, the Tar Heels answered with Scott's touchdown reception, but a 68-yard kickoff return and a 16-yard reception by Suter would set up a 17-yard touchdown pass from McBrien to Harrison, to knot the score at 21-21.

    "We finally got everything rolling on all cylinders," Suter said. "Everything was clicking and that's what we can do when we play well."

    On the Tar Heels next drive following Novak's third field goal of the game, Durant hung a deep pass to Scott that was picked off by cornerback Dominique Foxworth.

    "We were in cover one so it wasn't even my man," Foxworth said. "But we had him pretty well covered and he was pushed outside which allowed me to make that interception."

    On the next play, tailback Josh Allen took a screen pass and scored from 43 yards out. On their next possession, Maryland added insult to the beleaguered UNC defense with a 67-yard touchdown pass from McBrien to Walker with 57 seconds left in the half.

    But Maryland – on its way to 612 yards of total offense – was not yet ready to close the books on the first half scoring. Pollock fumbled the ball away at the Tar Heels' 20, and four plays later, Allen scored from five yards out.

    "I thought that was the turning point," Pollock said. "That gave them an extra momentum boost."

    "Things went from bad to worse to worst," Bunting added. "What's a worse word than worst? How about disaster?"

    Durant then took a knee with 29 seconds showing on the clock, and mercifully, the horror of a first half was over.

    And so another fall Saturday ends in disappointment for the Tar Heels, and a breakout performance by their opponent's offense.

    "They needed something like this to help them get their confidence," Friedgen said. "I told them last night that I just wanted them to play with their hearts and pride - pride in themselves, pride in their team, pride in their unit, pride in their condition - and do it for 60 minutes and have fun."

    And that they did.

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