Oct. 23, 2003
By PAUL NEWBERRY
AP Sports Writer
ATLANTA - Reggie Ball grabbed a stat sheet, looked at Georgia Tech's rather puny offensive numbers and shook his head in disgust.
His coach couldn't care less. The Yellow Jackets defense came through all night, and Ball came through when it counted most.
"A win is a win is a win," coach Chan Gailey said after Georgia Tech took advantage of a wacky fumble to beat Maryland 7-3 Thursday night in a key Atlantic Coast Conference game.
Ball passed 4 yards to Jonathan Smith for the game's only touchdown early in the fourth quarter, a score set up by Jonathan Cox's fumble recovery.
The Yellow Jackets (5-3, 3-2) won their fourth straight, and this one could be critical when bowl invitations are handed out at the end of the season.
"We found a way to win," said Ball, who was 12-of-28 for 98 yards. "It was ugly, but we found a way to pull it out against a tough team."
Maryland (5-3, 2-2) had a five-game winning streak snapped as coach Ralph Friedgen lost to his former employer for the first time.
The Terrapins had won two in a row over the Yellow Jackets since Friedgen, a Tech assistant for nine years, returned to his alma mater.
"Really, I'm disappointed with everything about our offense," Friedgen said. "We practiced as well as at any time since I've been here, and then we come out and play like this. I'm just really disappointed right now."
In a game dominated by defense and plagued by turnovers, Georgia Tech came up with most crucial takeaway late in the third quarter.
Redshirt freshman Joel Statham, filling in for injured Maryland quarterback Scott McBrien, fumbled when hit from behind by Keyaron Fox. One Maryland player and two Georgia Tech defenders tried - and failed - to recover the bouncing ball before Cox finally corralled it at the Terrapins 35, returning it 17 yards.
"We had our hands on the ball all night," Gailey said. "I'm glad we finally got one."
Georgia Tech had first-and-goal at the 8 as the fourth quarter began. Ball threw an incompletion and gained 4 yards on a draw before dropping back on third down.
The freshman quarterback was crushed by Leroy Ambush and D'Qwell Jackson but managed to get off a wobbly pass, which made it to Smith standing all alone in the back of the end zone with 14:10 remaining.
"I knew after the first few series we were going to have to gut it out," Ball said. "Give it to our defense. They kept us in the game."
Nick Novak had given Maryland a 3-0 lead on a 35-yard field goal with 3:14 left in the third quarter. But the Terrapins couldn't overcome five fumbles - they lost two - and two interceptions.
Maryland was held to its lowest-scoring game since a 22-0 loss to Notre Dame in the 2002 season opener. The Terrapins averaged more than 37 points a game during their winning streak.
While running the option, McBrien took a big hit from Dawan Landry late in the first half. He was hit again on Maryland's next series and staggered to the sideline, unable to return to the game because of a concussion.
While senior Orlando Evans was listed as the backup, Friedgen decided to go with Statham, a redshirt freshman who had thrown only one pass in his career.
Statham, a native of Chatsworth, Ga., played respectably under the circumstances, going 10-of-22 for 93 yards. But Maryland's last real chance ended when the youngster was picked off by James Butler, who also had Tech's first interception off McBrien.
Georgia Tech ran off all but the final 24 seconds, giving Maryland the ball back at its own 11 with no timeouts.
"I'm not disappointed with him," Friedgen said. "He's going to learn to read coverages better and things along those lines. That will happen as he matures. To go in there like that, I thought he did OK. He made some big plays but, unfortunately, he gave up some."
Appropriately, the game ended with Statham getting hit by Daryl Smith while trying to throw, the incompletion falling harmlessly to the turf. The Terrapins were held to 253 yards, while Georgia Tech won with a 228-yard effort.
"Did we win?" a pumped-up Gailey asked. "We won. Three weeks from now, no one will care."
The first half was scoreless.
Maryland was held to 117 yards, hurting itself with two turnovers. Georgia Tech managed only 106 yards and Ball threw his first interception in three games, breaking a streak of 73 consecutive passes without being picked off.
Novak squandered the only scoring threat of the half, missing a 39-yard field goal.