Terry O'Connell, Catholic University's all-time leading pass receiver, turned a short catch into a 53-yard touchdown play with 1:11 left as CU nipped Georgetown, 27-22, before an overflow crowd at Georgetown yesterday.

Quarter back Steve Stanislav was looking only for a first down on his third-and-10 pass across the middle to O'Connell. The split end stepped out of cornerback Marty Garofolo's ankle tackle, however, and outraced the last potential tackler, Mark Granville-Smith, for 35 yards to the end zone.

O'Connell's seventh catch of the season-opener for both teams enabled Catholic to make a success of its return to NCAA varsity football after 27 years. The Cardinals also retained the Steven P. Dean Memorial Trophy.

And, for a second straight year, this crosstown rivalry was decided in the final 90 seconds, this time after Catholic appeared to have the game in hand, 19-7, early in the fourth quarter.

All that Cardinal coach Joe Pascale was worried about was mistakes by his inexperienced players. A mistake had let Georgetown back in the game.

On a fourth down, CU center Dave Higgins snapped the ball low and punter Bob O'Sullivan fielded it with his knee on the ground at the Cu 23. Georgetown took over from there.

Georgetown's wishbone offense, led by quarterback Bob Sitz and fullback Jim Boland, went on to post two quick touchdowns for a 22-19 lead with 2:45 to play.

Stanislav, who completed 14 of 27 passes for 243 yards, brought Catholic back in a shotgun formation. "We use that only when we're desperate," Pascale admitted later. "We had our backs to the wall and tried to change things."

The first play worked for 12 yards, to the CU 26. But Georgetown's defense started rushing Stanislav unmercifully. Two downs later, following two incompletions, the Cardinals went back to their wing-T formation.

Stanislav gained almost 10 yards around right end, and CU faced rourth and inches. Stanislav chose a quarterback sneak and gave CU a first down, at its 47. Again, Georgetown covered CU's "out" patterns well and two more incomplete passes resulted.

Then O'Connell made his big play. A senior from Carroll High, he faked to the outside, then cut across the middle. Stanislav had the ball there and O'Connell turned his 118th career catch into the game-winner.

Both teams accomplished their pregame offensive objectives. CU set up Georgetown's pass degense - the Hoyars' biggest weakness - with runs early in the game. Georgetown set up its wishbone triple options by using Boland extensively (28 carries 119 yards), thereby enabling Sitz to cross up the CU defense with pitchouts to halfback Steve Scheurle, who scored two touchdowns, and to attempt 20 passes.