Sept. 4, 2004
By DAVID GINSBURG
AP Sports Writer
COLLEGE PARK, Md. - Before Nick Novak rescued Maryland's erratic offense with his kicking, he used his poise and leadership to calm the team's nervous quarterback.
As a result, the Terrapins opened their season with a victory for the first time in three years.
Novak became the leading scorer in Atlantic Coast Conference history, kicking three field goals and two conversions to lead No. 22 Maryland past Northern Illinois 23-20 Saturday night.
Novak kicked field goals of 43, 34, and 44 yards. His 11-point night gave him a career total of 335, breaking the record of 326 set by Scott Bentley of Florida State.
Just as important, the senior pulled aside sophomore Joel Statham in the first quarter, when the young quarterback appeared visibly shaken after losing two fumbles in his initial three series as a starter.
"I just wanted to tell him something quick before he could think about whatever went wrong," Novak said. "I said, 'Whatever happens, happens. We all go through some adversity, me especially. I've gone through some adversity."'
Last year, for instance, Novak missed a conversion that would have tied a game against North Carolina State. He came back to kick the game-winner, and now he's the most prolific scorer in ACC history.
"I feel great. I just went out there and did my job, and the record and stuff just took care of itself," he said.
The victory enabled Maryland to improve to 20-1 at home under fourth-year coach Ralph Friedgen, now 32-8 since taking over at his alma mater. The Terrapins also gained a measure of revenge against the Huskies, who upset Maryland in last year's opener in Illinois.
Statham went 12-for-22 for 169 yards and one interception. He also lost three fumbles, which Northern Illinois converted into 10 points.
Statham's last fumble was returned 85 yards for a touchdown by Jason Hawkins, and the two-point conversion made it 23-20 with 5:34 left. But the Terrapins held on.
"I made a lot of mistakes," Statham said. "It was obvious I need a lot more work to improve."
Northern Illinois got only one series out of senior quarterback Josh Haldi, who attempted to play with a stress fracture in his right foot but was forced to leave after three plays. He was replaced by sophomore Phil Horvath, who went 19-for-36 for 219 yards and two interceptions.
"I'm really proud of Phil Horvath," NIU coach Joe Novak said. "I think it's one thing to know you're going to be the guy going in and it's another thing to see Haldi out there and all of a sudden you're thrust in. That's hard."
Horvath nearly brought the Huskies back, but the clock expired with Northern Illinois at the Maryland 33.
"At the end of game things were just sitting there and we didn't quite get it done," coach Novak said.
A.J. Harris, who gained 94 yards rushing for Northern Illinois, said, "We know how good we are now. It's not good that we lost, but it's going to help us out."
After using two interceptions by D'Qwell Jackson to build a 10-2 halftime lead, Maryland forced a fumble on the opening kickoff of the third quarter and turned it into a 1-yard touchdown run by Josh Allen, who finished with 102 yards on 22 carries.
Northern Illinois responded with an 80-yard touchdown drive in which Harris accounted for 63 yards on seven carries. Horvath capped the march with a 4-yard pass to Garrett Wolfe to make it 17-9.
The teams then exchanged field goals, and after forcing a punt the Terrapins moved to the Northern Illinois 6. But Ken West hit Statham, who fumbled, and Hawkins scooped up the ball and rambled the distance.
The key to Maryland's offense is the option, and Statham initially struggled to make it work. His first pitch went awry and was recovered by the Huskies, and his next pitch went behind Allen, who pounced on it in the end zone for a safety and a 2-0 lead.
That's when the Terrapins' kicker pulled Statham aside for a chat.
Maryland went up 7-2 in the second quarter with a 52-yard drive following an interception by Jackson. After Statham ran 24 yards to the Northern Illinois 28, Sammy Maldonado covered the yardage in four runs, the last one from the 9.
The Huskies then moved 54 yards before Jackson again intercepted Horvath, and Statham followed with his first completion of the night, a 39-yarder to Vernon Davis, setting up a 43-yard field goal by Novak with 8:48 left in the half.