Despite tragedy, ‘Canes look for weekend win

Coming off a demoralizing Homecoming defeat, the ‘Canes hit the Greentree Practice Fields Tuesday and Wednesday to prepare for the Saturday game against the surging Maryland Terrapins, with their biggest worry seeming to be the accumulating injuries plaguing the team. However, with the tragic loss of senior defensive lineman Bryan Pata, the injuries were put into perspective.

“They felt like Bryan would want to practice,” Head Coach Larry Coker said. “They felt like Bryan would want to play. That’s the decision that we respected. I think it’s the right decision. I talked to a lot of teams that have had tragedies, and I think the thing they have all said is that you need to get back.”

Quarterback Kyle Wright (thumb fracture), left tackle Reggie Youngblood (knee hyperextension), running back Javarris James (hip pointer) and tight end Greg Olsen (ankle sprain) all were forced to either limit or cancel their practice time Tuesday.

Defensive back Kenny Phillips wasn’t on the field at all. Phillips broke his right hand against Virginia Tech and was forced to undergo surgery. He will be out for the next two games and could be done for the remainder of the season.

Despite the injuries, the ‘Canes are pushing ahead. The biggest example of that is backup quarterback Kirby Freeman practicing with the first team, as Wright looked on with his right arm in a soft cast.

“It’s a little bit like Ken Dorsey,” Coker said, concerning Freeman’s role filling in for Wright. “He stayed around here for eight games and never played. But he was always ready, prepared when you called on him and he’s ready to go. Kirby has always been that way. He had a pretty good bounce to his step.”

Freeman seemed eager to fill the role, running though routes with receivers during most of the practice.

“I’m not pushing Kyle anymore,” Freeman said. “I’m pushing myself. I’m doing the best I can to prepare for the week and now it really matters.”

However, all of the struggles the team had worked through in the practice came screeching to a halt Tuesday evening, when news came out that defensive end Bryan Pata had been shot and killed.

The team will remember him by putting his jersey number, 95, on their helmets.

What kind of effect will this have on the team? This could depress the team, producing a letdown in College Park Saturday. On the other hand, it could rally the team to a rebound performance with the Terps on the receiving end. The answer will only be revealed after Saturday’s game.

Maryland should prove to be a formidable opponent, currently standing at No. 23 in the BCS rankings after a comeback win against a Clemson squad who many pick to win the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Maryland was projected to finish fourth in the Atlantic Division by the media in the preseason, but now challenges Wake Forest for the lead and a spot in the ACC Championship game in Jacksonville.

The ‘Canes would love to emerge from Maryland with a win, especially since it would be their sixth.

Six wins is the minimum for bowl eligibility.

The game is the first that Miami and Maryland have played since 1987. The last time the ‘Canes visited Byrd Stadium was 1985.

Miami was victorious in both games. Arguably, the most memorable game in this series was a Hurricane defeat. On Nov. 10, 1984, Miami welcomed the Terps to the Orange Bowl, hung 31 points on them in the first half and then proceeded to allow back-up quarterback Frank Reich to lead Maryland to a 42-9 second half and a 42-40 victory.

This was the largest comeback in NCAA history until just over two weeks ago, when Michigan State mounted a 35-point comeback in the fourth quarter against Northwestern.

Matthew Bunch may be contacted at