Like the half-man, half-legend he has become on the Maryland campus, injured tailback Steve Atkins drifted into his team's locker room hours before yesterday's game like a ghost of hopes past. He wished his third-string replacement good luck, and as quietly as he had appeared. Atkins vanished for the rest of the day.
George Scott then went out and made memories out of Atkins' most prized school record - single game rushing - carrying 42 times, also a record, for 237 yards and three touchdowns in the Terps' 19-13 victory over Villanova at Byrd Stadium.
The winning scoring drive late in the fourth quarter was a thing of perfectly executed beauty, and a tribute to a sophomore named Scott, who had been seriously recruited by only one school.
Scott almost single-handedly won this game for that school, carrying on 10 of 11 plays and gaining 62 of the 69 yards in the final scoring march.
Scott converted two tough third downs into first downs with ground to spare, gaining 11 yards on third and three for a first and goal at the eight. On second and five, Scott took a play designed to smash up the middle, saw too much traffic and turned it wide around right end, breaking the 13-13 deadlock with 5:03 left.
Vince Kinney, the Terps' leading receiver, was hurt in a third-period pileup when his left shin was either badly bruised or broken. The leg was placed in a cast and will be X-rayed today. He joined Atkins (hamstring), running back Preacher Maddox, who was sidelined with bad ankles,and linebacker Brad Carr (hyperextended elbow) on the Maryland injury list.
The only company in Scott's spotlight this day was the Terps' defense, for putting up a goal-line stand in the second quarter that turned Villanova away empty after a first and goal at the 10.
Another unlikely hero took the credit on that one. Guard Bruce Palmer beat out the now-injured, all-conference Larry Seder for a starting job this year. Palmer smacked fullback Vince Thompson for no gain on fourth and goal from the one.
"I'll never forget that," said Palmer. "I never will. He was right in my face and I wasn't about to let him in. If he had scored, I don't know what I would have done."
At the time, Palmer's hit protected a 7-0 lead, and the Terps would ultimately need the save to make up for a third quarter full of drudgery, in which Maryland ran 10 plays, fumbled three times and set up Villanova for 10 points to tie the game, 13-13, going into the fourth quarter.
Scott made two of the fumbles, but his overall effort went a long way toweard getting Maryland past the .500 mark to 5-4. Particularly on the winning drive.
"In the fourth quarter, on that drive. I felt the whole team coming off the ball," said Scott. "It could have been anybody back there.
"It was almost like a rhythm. I knew exactly when the ball would be snapped. I was hitting the holes. Once you get in that rhythm, you can go."
Villanova coach Dick Bedesem, whose record has dipped to a disappointing 3-6, did not disagree.
"It was frustrating," said Bedesem. "Believe me, we exhausted everything we had to try and stop them except using 12 men. And don't think I didn't think of that, either."
After the second-quarter goal-line stand, Maryland was left with the worst possible field position, but drove 99 yards to Scott's second touchdown. Scott carried on seven of the 14 plays to eat away 78 yards.
Seldom-used wingback Don Dotter, in full view of a sign hanging from his nearby dormitory proclaiming of him "No one could be hotter," did sizzle on a third-and-two play for first and goal at the six. Scott dove for the one-yard touchdown and a 13-0 lead.
Ed Loncar missed the extra point, kicking wide left. LATER, HE WOULD SQUIRT ANOTHER ON THE GROUND. "I just kicked them with the side of my foot," he said "I don't know why."
Gus Fernandez had a better day for Villanova, looking a 28-yard field goal to bring the Wildcats to 13-3 at the half.
In the dreary third quarter, Maryland never got a first down. Scott's first fumble set up a 71-yard scoring drive to make it 13-10, and the Wildcats tied it after a Scott fumble at Maryland's 23, as Fernandez booted a 33-yarder.
Perhaps the Terps were awakened by the spectre of dropping below .500 with a loss at home on a day when even free hamburgers helped to lure just 30.186 to the stadium.
The 69-yard march in the fourth quarter took up a very long 4:26. Quarterback Larry Dick did not throw a pass. Scott carried on the first four plays and the last six. In the game, Dick converted third downs by passing just twice.
Villanova's all-wishbone, no-thrown quarterback, Pat O'Brien, rushed for 110 yards, and Thompson hurt the Terps constantly, bellying up the middle for 103 yards.
But with 5:03 left in the game and Maryland leading 19-13. O'Brien immediately reached a third and 10, and really had no recourse but to throw. He missed Bernie Hober badly, as he had earlier in the day. Maryland then ran out the clock for the victory.
The Termps were not only missing Atkins ailing with a hamstring pull, from both the field and the sideline, but his backup. Precher Maddox, was sidelined with bad ankles. Linebacker Brad Carr. the team's leading tackler, did not dress because of a hyperextended elbow.
Vince Kirney, the Terps' leading receiver, was carried off the field with either a badly bruised or broken left shin. The leg was placed in a cast and will be examined further today.
But yesterday, it seemed all Maryland needed was Scott.