Hoping to keep its bowl hopes alive, Maryland stumbled to a 28-7 win over Louisville yesterday in Byrd Stadium. But the Terrapins' unimpressive victory was not enough: When the bowl bids went out last night no one called College Park.
Thus, after six straight postseason appearances, Maryland (6-4) apparently will end its season against Virginia next Saturday. Although several bowls still have spots open, none of them have expressed interest in the Terps.
Yesterday, unaware that the bowls were uninterested, the Terrapins stumbled around for three quarters in front of a tiny crowd of 25,104 that showed up on a perfect fall day. The Terps looked as if they had bet on the visitors and given the points.Finally, the offense, led by Charlie Wysocki's 222 yards rushing, put three touchdowns on the board in the fourth quarter.
"I was beginning to think the defense was going to have to score," Maryland safety Ralph Lary said. "We'd been stuffing them all day and after three quarters it was still 7-7."
The offense, which spent all afternoon in Louisville territory, finally got untracked the last 15 minutes. Wysocki, who set a school record with 43 carries and came up 15 yards short of George Scott's school rushing record, finally put the Terps ahead for good with a one-yard burst with 11:52 left.
The victory left Maryland at 6-4 with only Virginia remaining on the schedule (at Maryland Saturday). Louisville dropped to 4-5-1.
Wysocki's backup, Tim Whittie, added insurance, scoring from 17 yards out with 3:51 left and from six yards out with 33 seconds to play.
That made the final score impressive, but still didn't wipe out the memory of three mostly inept quarters.
"I don't know what it was," quarterback Mike Tice said. "We just couldn't seem to make the third-down plays when we were in their territory. We kept moving it and moving it, but we couldn't score."
Tice had an excuse. On the first play of the game, after getting off a pass good for 20 yards when defender Ray Payton interfered with Gary Ellis, Tice was knocked cold by the Louisville pass rush.
"I was out," he said. "I don't really remember the first quarter at all. They kept giving me smelling salts and cold water on the bench. I didn't know Gary didn't catch the pass until he told me at halftime it was interference. I thought I'd thrown a hell of a completion."
On that first drive, the Terps got to the Louisville 13 and faced fourth and less than one. Coach Jerry Claiborne elected to go for the first down but Wysocki came up short after what appeared to be an incorrect spot by the official.
Claiborne's decision to go for the first down may have prevented place kicker Dale Castro from breaking the NCAA record for consecutive field goals.
Castro tried for his 17th straight with the score still 7-0 Louisville with 5:14 left in the half. But kicking into the wind from 49 yards out, Castro hit too high on the ball and the low line drive bounced into the end zone.
"We thought about punting because of the wind," said Claiborne, who kept throwing up tufts of grass to check the wind before sending in Castro. "But we just had so much confidence in Dale, we decided to let him try it."
Castro, apparently upset with himself after missing two more attempts, both from 41 yards in the third quarter, left the locker room quickly without comment.
The Terps were down, 7-0, after the Castro miss because quarterback Stu Shram, on one of Louisville's few decent offensive plays of the game, found tight end Mark Wilson open at midfield. Wilson went the rest of the way for a touchdown, the play covering 63 yards with 13:28 left in the first half.
"I just made a bad guess," said Maryland defensive back John Baldante, who Wilson beat on the play. "I thought it was a run and they threw the pass on play action."
With the Maryland offense struggling, it looked as if that score might hold up until halftime. But with 3:14 left, Castro punted 50 yards to Sebastian Curry, who fumbled at his 15. Snapper Bruce Byrom recovered and Maryland was in business.
Two plays later, off play action, Tice rolled left and found Ellis wide open from 13 yards out for a touchdown, tying the game at 7-7 with 1:50 left.
"That's when I started remembering things again," Tice said.
"That was a big play for them," Louisville Coach Vince Gibson said. "It seemed to put them in control at the start of the second half."
To say the Terps controlled the second half would be a vast understatement. In eight possessions, Louisville never got past its 39. Maryland controlled the ball 20 of the 30 minutes.
Nevertheless, after three quarters, the Louisville defense had held and it was beginning to look as if only a safety would break the tie.
"We weren't really worried," Wysocki insisted. "We were moving the ball all day. But we just couldn't get it in the end zone for some reason. I think we all knew it was just a matter of time. Their defense had to be getting tired."
According to Gibson, it was.
"We couldn't move the ball on offense and we had to play defense all the time," he said. "We just wore down towards the end of the game."
The offense was not the only thing that wore down the Cardinals. The other was their own punter, Mark Mager, who kicked 12 times for a 31-yard average, but just 25 yards per punt in the second half.
That meant Maryland consistently had superb field position. Early in the fourth quarter, the Terps finally used it. Suprisingly, the key play was one of the nine passes Tice threw all day, a 10-yard curl to wingback Jan Carinci on third and four at the Louisville 37.
"The funny thing is that their safety moved right into the spot where I go on the pattern just before the snap." said Carinci, who played despite a slightly torn cartilage in his knee. "Fortunately, he must have backed away or something after the snap because no one was there when I got there."
After Carcini's catch, the Terps pounded their way in, Wysocki carrying on six of the seven plays, including the last one for the lead.
"I felt really good all day," Wysocki said. "But please, give my blockers credit. The fullbacks (Jeff Rodenberger and Rick Fasano) and all the linemen, they were great.
"People had been saying to me all week that I wasn't going to get a thousand because I missed those two games in October," Wysocki said. "But my parents told me that I was going to get the 200-yard game today even though they had such good linebackers. That helped me a lot."
Wysocki had gained 938 yards this season.
Whittie was almost as impressive, especially on his 17-yard touchdown run. He broke two tackles, then cut back across the field to score.