Maryland accepted a bid yesterday to play Texas in the Sun Bowl, Dec. 23, in El Paso, Tex.
But there was no celebration for the Terrapins: only a mood of quiet frustration.
The 11th-ranked Terps were outscored by Clemson, 28-24, in a thrilling football game that decided the Atlantic Coast Conference championship.
With 51,376 Byrd Stadium fans roaring with every play. Maryland, trailing by seven points, 28-21, drove to a first down on the Clemson 11 with 4:01 left.
However, pushed back to the 18 and facing a fourth down with 1:56 left, the Terrapins tried a questionable field goal. And while Ed Loncar split the uprights from 35 yards, cutting the Tiger lead to four points, Maryland never touched the ball again.
The Tigers, ACC champs for the first time since 1967, ran out the clock and made plans for a trip to Jacksonville, where they will play in the Gator Bowl against the loser of next week's Michican-Ohio State game.
It was a spectacular offensive show, featuring Steve Atkins' record-breaking 98-yard touchdown run for Maryland and Steve Fuller's touchdown passes of 87 yards to Jerry Butler and 62 yards to Dwight Clark for Clemson.
Maryland, looking for its fourth conference title in five years, had leads of 7-0, 14-7 and 21-14 before succumbing to the Fuller Clark bomb that tied the game in the third period and a relentless 70-yard fourth-quarter drive, climaxed by Lester Brown's five-yard TD run that won the game.
Still, the Terps, now 9-2, looked like winners after Atkins (who gained 197 yards on 28 carries) galloped the length of the field in the third quarter to put the Terrapins in front, 21-14, with 4:07 left in the third quarter.
But Fuller came right back - hitting Clark - leaving the game to be won or lost in the trench.
So, 55 seconds later, the fourth quarter began as the game had started: even. Clemson and Maryland each staggered for a series, 70 yards in 10 plays to Brown's 14th touch-then the Tigers marched in orderly fashion, down of the year, a five-yard run around right and after a fake to the fullback.
That put the Tigers up, 28-21, with 7:30 left, and Maryland's next and last chance to score came with just over two minutes left, and the Terps with a first down at the Clemson 11.
Atkins was thrown for a loss of two, and then quarterback Tim O'Hare scrambled for five. On third and seven, O'Hare pitched to Dean Richards behind the line of scrimmage and Richards had the option to run, or throw to a receiver or back to O'Hare. Before any for a loss of 11, making it fourth and 17 with of that could transpire, Richards was thrown 1:56 left in the game.
Here is where Coach Jerry Claiborne made a gamble that will haunt him. He went for, and made, the 35-yard field goal, hoping to recover the ensuing onside kick (which the Terps have done once this year) or force a fumble. But Clemson recovered the kick and ran out the clock.
O'Hare's first comment on the decision to go for the field goal was, "No comment." Then he added, "All quarterbacks want to go for it. I don't make the decisions. And I don't want to sound like sour grapes.
"We had some big plays, but we just didn't come up with enough of them. I was proud of the way we played. I was proud of the way we came back on the last drive. I've enjoyed every minute of this season."
Clemson never led until the fourth quarter, but it seemed to be an even match from the moment Alvin (Preacher) Maddox began the scoring with his three-yard run up the middle in the first quarter.
Maryland wasted a big opportunity by not scoring after linebacker Neal Olkewicz recovered a fumbled lateral at the Clemson 37.
On the next series, Clemson moved 80 yards up the field and scored on fourth and one, as Fuller leaped up and thrust the ball forward, breaking the goal-line plane. Afterward, he patted the head of Maryland and Joe Muffler, and Obed Ariri kicked the extra point for a 7-7 tie with 9:20 left in the half.
The defense dominated play for the next nine minutes, and Clemson, punting from deep in its territory with 22 seconds left, looked at a 10-man Maryland rush. As David Sims took a tiny extra step, Olkewicz blew through the line and blocked his punt with his left forearm. Maryland's Michael Carney recovered for a touchdown and a 14-7 lead at the half.
Fuller brought Clemson back with his 87-yard touchdown pass to Butler, who was able to get open when two Maryland defenders bumped into each other and a third was too far away.
A minute later, Atkins' run seemed to turn the tide. But at that point, Clemson's defensive, coordinator, Joe Kines, made a slight change, covering the center with linebacker Bubba Brown and moving the linemen over the guards. This seemed to contain Atkins' blasts up the middle and after a 23-yard run early in the next series, Atkins was unable to break another one.
Brown's subsequent touchdown that put Clemson ahead, 28-21, was scored easily because a Maryland linebacker missed an assignment.
"The linebacker who came in for me was supposed to take the pitch man (Brown)," said safety Ralph Larry, who was quick to point out, "I'd just like to say that I played terrible.
"On that long one (pass) to Butler, we'd heard Fuller audible for a curl pattern and Butler got between our defenders and then just outran me.
"The second (scoring) pass was totally my fault. We were in a two-deep zone and I was standing right there, watching the ball go by. I could have broken for it, intercepted it or at least knocked it down. I just didn't play smart. I let a lot of people down."
Fuller, who has an excellent chance to win a second straight ACC player-of-the-year award, said he called "all but three or four of the plays" at the line of scrimmage, reading the Maryland's defense and deciding not to use the primary option of the plays sent in from the sideline.
"When they started double covering Jerry (Butler)," said Fuller, "we ran up the middle, or threw to Dwight (Clark)."
Fuller was eight of 17 for the day for 216 yards, five of those passes going to Butler for 140 yards. Brown gained 78 yards in 24 carries.
"The whole team is disappointed." said Atkins. "They (Clemson) just got one more break than we did. I wanted to go out a winner. But then again, some people thought we'd go 2-9 this year."
Second-year Clemson Coach Charley Pell, who has lost only one ACC game since taking over after the 1976 season - to Maryland last year - called it "a great team victory. We're talking about something that has happened over a long time - two years." Clemson is 9-1 with a game remaining Saturday against South Carolina.
Claiborne said, "It was tremendous for a championship game. The only thing I regret is that we did't come out the winner."