The most important battles between Penn State and Maryland take place in wood-paneled family rooms over milk and cookies.

Before Penn State went on the field to win 22 to 23 games against Maryland, its coaches went into the homes of the football-rich territories of Pennsylvania and won the signatures of most of the finest high school players sought by both schools.

Maryland, with an assist from Pitt, is just beginning to punch a few holes in the Pennsylvania dam. When the two undefeated teams take the field in University Park, Pa., tomorrow before a national television audience, the Terps will have a handful of players Penn State wanted. Penn State will have virtually an entire team Maryland pursued.

"To recruit in Pennsylvania is an experience," said Maryland assistant John Devlin. "Over the years, we don't beat Penn State often."

Maryland's biggest victory over Penn State was in landing former quarterback Mark Manges from Cumberland, Md.

In the Terp's latest recruiting class, they feel they won two major battles in obtaining center-linebacker Vince Tomasetti from Old Forge, Pa., and defensive lineman Jerry Rogers from Pottstown, Pa. Penn State Coach Joe Paterno admits to these defeats.

But Maryland's current starting team harbors few steals from Paterno, and some of its finest players were not highly recruited. Quarterback Tim O'Hare visited Miami of Florida, defensive halfback Lloyd Burruss was barely recruited, and split end Dean Richards was sought primarily by Mid-American Conference teams.

"One thing about Penn State, said assistant coach George Foussekis. "They don't recruit Virginia heavily - I think they feel they have a harder time the farther south they go. Northern kids will go south, But Southern kids won't go north."

Thus, Maryland won Virginia's Steve Atkins in a fight with Tennessee, Virginia's Alvin (Preacher) Maddox in a fight with Ohio State. Virginia's Larry Stewart in a fight with Nebraska and Ohio State, and Virginia's Bruce Palmer, who was wanted at Oklahoma.

The state of Maryland does not have nearly the treasure chest of football talent that Pennsylvania does, but Maryland usually skims the cream, as it did with defensive halfback Steve Trimble and offensive guard Kervin Wyatt - all good players who basically never wanted to go anywhere else.

The only Maryland starters whom Penn State apparently showed interest in were Ed Gall of Egypt, Pa. (who was sick of hearing about Penn State), tight end Eric Sievers of Arlington (who was "a little scared" to go there) and defensive guard Marlin Van Horn of Selingsgrove, Pa. All of this is according to Maryland recruiters.

Penn State admits to having wanted Gall and being confused at his refusal to even visit. Penn State also admits to having wanted Maryland's backup receiver, Gary Ellis, who is from State College, Pa., but disputes the claim that they were highly interested in Van Horn or in third-string quarterback Bob Milkovich of Rockville.

One Maryland assistant said, "It's hard to tell exactly how many players we've beaten them on, because they bury their dead, if you know what I mean. After we get them, they claim they never wanted them. It's like doing battle in the middle of the night. You can hear the yell, but when the sun comes up, there are no bodies."

Maryland assistant Gib Romaine, who is assigned to recruit in Pennsylvania, said he unsuccessfully pursued these Penn State starters: offensive tackle Keith Dorney, split end Scott Fitzkee, fullback Matt Suhey, linebacker Paul Suhey, defensive tackle Matt Millen, tailback Mike Guman, tight end Irv Pankey (the only starter from Maryland), right guard Jim Romano, defensive end Larry Kubin, defensive tackle Bruce Clark and middle guard Tony Petruccio.

"And," said Romaine, "there are a lot of guys on their second team we wanted."

Assistant Dick Redding, assigned to recruit in Western Pennsylvania, was asked how many players he won from Pennsylvania last year.

"None," he said "I lost every one last year to Penn State. I tell you, they're tough."

Redding also tried to recruit Penn State's starting quarterback, Chuck Fusina, from McKees Rocks, Pa.

"He wouldn't even visit us," said Redding. "The thing we have to do is beat them on the field."

Assistant coach Tom Groom said that theory "is overrated."

"I don't think kids make a decision like that based on the outcome of one game. Kids have different tastes, and these are different schools. Penn State has a completely different atmosphere up in the middle of nowhere, while we're here almost in our nation's capital."

The one Maryland starter Penn State admits to having wanted - Gall - is somewhat mysterious about his reasons for leaving his home state for Maryland. His best friend is Millen, Penn State's super defensive tackle, and they played together in high school.

"I told Penn State I wasn't interested," said Gall. "All I ever heard growing up was Penn State. I started hating them. Well, not hating them; disliking them."

Gall and Millen chatted on the phone Wednesday night. The difference in their decisions, Gall said, was that, "Matt grew up loving Penn State."

Maryland knows the feeling.