At Byrd Stadium, it was April Fool's Day. Lucy pulled the ball away again. Those dratted teases from Penn State lulled Maryland into thinking it could win -- at last -- yesterday and then lowered the annual anvil.
One of life's certainties -- or so a generation of area fans suggest -- is that Maryland will find a way to lose to the Lions. It came sooner than usual this time, the drama essentially over 10 minutes before halftime.
By season's end, these Terrapins might accurately be called "Claiborne's Cripples," for they seem to have more fine players injured than healthy. So yesterday they went out and kicked away their crutch, which in football terminology means field position.
"Super field position" is what the winning coach, Joe Paterno, called State's advantage when the game was in doubt. The Lions scored two touchdowns on drives of 14 and two yards and kept the Terrapins buried inside their shell, in part, by moving perhaps the nation's finest defensive player to another position.
Both teams entered the stadium with major doubts about themselves. Maryland wondered if it could pass and State was uncertain it could stop the new Terrapin mascot. In the last two games, its allegedly awsome defense had surrendered 69 points.
What to do?
Move Bruce Clark from tackle to what football filberts call nose guard, or chin strap to chin strap with the opposition center. It was a significant switch -- and it worked, or at least Maryland made it look good.
It was not quite so traumatic as the Martin and Lewis breakup, or Sonny and Cher. Still, more than a year in the national conscience as the best defensive tackles in the undergraduate world.
But Texas A&M and Nebraska had nullified their skills by double teaming them. Sometime this week, a light clicked in Happy Valley and somebody realize it was impossible to attack them with two blockers each if they played next to one another.
It clearly caught Maryland by surprise. Or Clark thought so -- and no mortal in the State dressing room was about to argue.
"He (the Maryland center) was more surprised about the switch than I was," Clark said. "He looked up at me (as he stooped to grab the ball) and did a double take, like 'What are you doing in that position?"
"All I did was shrug my shoulders."
And then join Millen and Larry Kubin and some others in kicking Maryland all over the field. The Terrapins had just one first down the entire first half.
"Just a physically tremendous human speciman," said Maryland guard Kervin Wyatt, who joined that astonished center in assorted double teams. "He's just unbelievable. Good speed. Good strength. Good everything.
"What can you say? The guy didn't win the Lombardi Trophy last year by being mediocre."
The guy is said to be able to bench press Idaho when the spirit moves him. At 6-feet-2 and 262 pounds, he once penetrated the Maryland backfield so quickly that he caused a fumble on a reverse by burying at least two players.
"Bigger, stronger and just as fast as Randy White," Coach Jerry Claiborne said when asked to compare Clark with his own former All Universe lineman.
Clark was recruited to Penn State as a linebacker. Like lots of players who dream of glory at that position at Linebacker U., Clark was switched to tackle. He did not relish the change at first.
He does not seem enthusiastic about this move, either.
"Double teams and triple teams is all I see," he said. In truth, the important function of his new position is occupying enough blockers so other defenders make the spectacular plays. "I'm finding out how good I am.
"And my knees are always vulnerable. That's the biggest fear I had when I moved to tackle. If I can't block you straight up, I'll try to cut you, too, won't I?
"Maryland doesn't try to finesse you. They're not like those Southwest Conference teams that go down the line and use the option. They go right at you. Yes, I thought they'd try to use more screens and draws."
Why had State not used the tactic earlier?
"We debated that," Paterno said. "But there were things involved in the defensive scheme we liked the other way. Also, we weren't sure anyone else could play tackle. Greg Jones (who switched positions with Clark) played well."
For all of the changes and all of the points, State still did not learn all that much yesterday. The victory was almost too easy; the offense never was forced to go an extended distance under pressure.
But then State needed a victory in the worst sort of way. This is a team that had lost two games in a row under a coach who had lost more than two games in a season just four times in 13 years.
"It was important to have a no-nonsense, solid game," Paterno said. "I keep using that word (solid) because that's the way I feel. We needed to go nose to nose, stay in position and not lose our poise.
"If we'd have gotten flighty again, out of whack and not made the big plays, we'd have been in trouble. A scared club? No, we had been a concerned club. Very concerned."