Any lingering doubts about the quality of the Wake Forest football team were put to rest today.

Showing imagination on offense and a defense that made big plays, the Demon Deacons beat Maryland, 25-17, on an afternoon when the Terrapins did not play badly.

They were simply beaten by a better team.

"We played pretty well," said Maryland linebacker Brian Matera. "They just made the big plays, just like they've done all year."

Those big plays carried Wake to its first victory in eight tries against Jerry Claiborne-coached Maryland teams. The Deacons also handed Claiborne a fourth straight loss for the first time as Maryland coach. The Terps dropped to 3-4 for the season, 1-2 in the ACC.

By the end of the afternoon, the Deacon fans among the 26,050 in picturesque Groves Stadium didn't sound so crazy as they chanted: "Orange Bowl, Orange Bowl." Wake, which losst its last 10 games in 1978, is 3-1 in ACC play overall.

"They just did a real good job with their pass offense," Claiborne said after watching Wake quarterback Jay Venuto complete 20 of 37 passes for 250 yards and two touchdowns, with seven receivers making catches. "Venuto got outside our rush a few times and that really hurt us.

Penalties also hurt the Terrapins. The first penalty came in the second quarter with the score 3-3 and Wake on the Maryland 24. Venuto tried to hit wide receiver Kenny Duckett, who had just picked up 27 yards on a reverse. The pass was broken up by Ralph Lary, but Gurnest Brown was called for roughing Venuto and the Deacs had a first down on the 12.

Three plays after that penalty, Venuto found split end Wayne Baumgardner, who caught seven passes for 121 yards, in the corner of the end zone and it was 9-3, Deacons, with 1:23 leftin the half after the Maryland defense had broken up numerous Venuto passes to keep the score even.

Then came the play that perhaps made the difference between these teams today. As they always do after scoring, the Deacons lined up their center, holder and kicker in standard extra-point position. The rest of the team huddled on the left sideline.

Suddenly, center Steve Truitt snapped the ball (actually shoved it) to tight end Mike Mullen, who sauntered into the end zone as the Maryland defense watched.

"We just blew it," said Claiborne. "We work on that play every week and I tell the players to watch out for it. Somebody saw it and yelled but it was too late."

That made it 11-3. Terps quarterback Bob Milkovich, making his first start, then used tailback Wayne Wingfield, who started in place of Charlie Wysocki -- left home when his bruised thigh swelled Friday -- to get the ball from the Maryland 20 to the Wake 29 with five seconds left in the half.

From there, Dale Castro was perfect from 46 yards and it was 11-6 at the half. Castro's three-for-three today in field goals gives him 13 straight this season, a single-season NCAA record but two short of the overall mark of 15.

The 11-6 score set the stage for what proved to be the crucial three plays of the game in the third quarter. Milkovich, who was seven-for-20 passing for 104 yards and who rushed 12 times for 62 yards before bruising a knee in the fourth quarter, found backup split end Larry Gregory wide open on a first-down pass from his 38 and Gregory took the ball to the Deacon 10.

Twice, Wingfield, who finished with 32 carries for 142 yards, crashed inside, taking the ball to the three. On third down, Wingfield went wide and Deacon nose guard James Parker fought through two blocks and slammed him down on the five.

Castro's 22-yard chip shot made it 11-9 but something went out of Maryland at that point.

On the Deacon's next series, Venuto engineered an excellent 80-yard, eight-play drive. One of the big plays was a 32-yard, third-and-11 completion to freshman Derek Hawkins -- his first varsity catch. Tailback James McDougald capped the drive with a five-yard pop through the middle and it was 18-9 with 1:17 left in the third quarter.

It was the officials who gave Wake their next big play. It came after Landon King had recovered a fumbled Milkovich-to-Wingfield pitch on the Maryland 38 -- the play on which Milkovich was hurt.

On second and seven at the 35, Venuto threw a floater to Baumgardner at the five-yard line. Defensive back Sam Medile, playing for the injured Sammy Johnson, went up with Baumgardner and cleanly tipped the ball away.

But he was called for pass interference -- a poor call by the official.

"I was just trying to go for the ball," said Medile, who was near tears after the game. "I went up and tipped the ball and he called it. Maybe he saw something, I don't know."

The disputed call moved the ball to the six-yard line. Two plays later Venuto all but sealed the game by throwing to a wide-open Bill Ruffner for a 25-9 lead with 10:08 left.

Mike Tice, replacing Milkovich, managed to hit Mike Lewis for a 52-yard score and ran in for a two-point conversion to make it 25-17 with 4:17 left, but the Terps never saw the ball again as Wake recovered an onside kick and drove to the Maryland 20 as time ran out. On that last series Terp linebacker Darnell Dailey suffered a severe ankle injury.

As the players unpiled after the final play, with 15 seconds left on the clock, Claiborne, the setting sun in his eyes, was on the field yelling, "Get up, get up," at his defense. Suddenly, he looked up at the clock and realized it was over. Turning away, he slammed his hands together in frustration.

The clock had run out on Maryland -- again.