Monday, September 21, 2009

Gators Top the Terps, 9/21/74

While detractors of the University of Florida like to claim the Gators never play non-conference teams on the road, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, 35 years ago the Gators packed their bags to play a road game against the University of Maryland ... in Tampa.

Yes, on Sept. 21, 1974, the Terrapins and Gators squared off at Tampa Stadium in a contest that served as a University of Maryland home game. How did this happen?

After the 1965 season, the two schools signed an agreement to play home-and-home contests. The West Coast Sports Association, the sponsors responsible for bringing Gator games to Tampa, later contacted Maryland about moving the game to Tampa Stadium.

When the agreement between the schools was originally signed, the Gators had just made a Sugar Bowl appearance and the Terrapins were coming off a losing season and head coaching change.

The first game in the series (although the 12th overall) came in 1971, when the Gators barely escaped with a 27-23 win at The Swamp in Gainesville.

Coming into the 1974 meeting, however, the Gators were facing a Maryland team tied with them for the No. 14 ranking in the United Press International poll. The Terrapins finished 1973 with an 8-4 record -- the school's first winning record since 1962 -- and a berth in the Peach Bowl.

Maryland, 0-1 after a close opening loss to top-ranked Alabama, was clearly a favorite to challenge for the Atlantic Coast Conference championship. Installed as a six-point favorite against Florida, the Terps figured to give the 1-0 Gators a run for their money.

"I'd have to say when we signed Maryland," said Florida athletic director Ray Graves," the idea was for a breather. Now look what I've gotten (Florida head coach) Doug Dickey into."

The late-arriving crowd of 41,410 knew from the get-go that the game would be no breather for the Gators. On the third play of the game, Florida quarterback Don Gaffney fumbled and Maryland's Harry Walters recover the ball at the Gator 27.

The defense stiffened, however, and limited the Terps to a 31-yard field goal attempt. The kick by Steve Mike-Mayer was good and the Gators quickly trailed 3-0.

The game then settled into a defensive struggle for most of the first quarter. Early in the second quarter, freshman running back Tony Green energized the Gators with two big carries. Running from his own 35-yard line, Green sprinted 35 yards into Maryland territory at the 30-yard line. Just two plays later, Green again broke loose on a marvelous run, breaking two tackles en route to a 26-yard touchdown run. A successful extra point gave Florida a 7-3 lead.

Maryland answered right back with a touchdown of its own. A halfback pass by future Tampa Bay Buccaneer Louis Carter to Walter White set up the Terps at the Florida 7-yard line. John Schultz punched it in two plays later to give his team a 10-7 lead heading into the half.

The third quarter belonged to Florida. The Gators were able to march down the field on their opening drive of the half. Walk-on kicker David Posney attempted a 49-yard field goal -- the longest of his career -- into a strong wind and just barely cleared the uprights to tie the game at 10-10.

Although he missed a 41-yard try later in the quarter, the Gators were imposing their will defensively and a Wayne Fields interception set up Florida in Maryland territory at the 28.

Quarterback Jimmy Fisher of Tampa led the Gators on what would be the deciding scoring drive of the game. On 3rd-and-12 from the Maryland 17, Fisher connected with Plant High product Lee McGriff at the 2-yard line. McGriff then shed two tacklers and found his way into the end zone for the score. Following the successful extra point, Florida took a 17-10 lead into the final quarter.

The teams both played a tight fourth quarter, and Maryland had one quality chance to tie the game late. Facing 3rd-and-2 at the Florida 17, Richard Jennings gained the first down but fumbled after a jarring hit by Tyson Sever. Glenn Cameron recovered for the Gators at the 12 to all but seal the game for Florida with three minutes left in the game.

The win sent the Gators to a 2-0 mark, while the Terps fell to 0-2 on the young season. Maryland would recover, however, and go on to win the Atlantic Coast Conference championship. The Gators, meanwhile, slumped later in the season en route to an 8-4 mark and a Sugar Bowl berth.

The Terrapins would ultimately avenge the defeat in Tampa one season later, as the two teams met in the 1975 Gator Bowl, a game Maryland would win 13-0.

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