They were all still scratching, clawing and yelling at the end. And when it was over, the handshakes were halfhearted. The game had been billed as a 60-minute war and it was.
But Maryland showed up in Kenan Stadium today with faulty ammunition. The result was a 17-3 defeat at the hands of a North Carolina team that the Terrapins dislike with a passion.
Four lost fumbles, three by Charlie Wysocki, and UNC touchdowns by tailbacks Amos Lawrence -- on a 15-yard pass by Rod Elkins in the second quarter -- and Kelvin Bryant -- on a six-yard run in the fourth quarter -- made the Terps losers for the first time this season, in front of 51,400 on a cool, hazy day in the Carolina pines.
"We got beat by a good, tough football team," Maryland Coach Jerry Claiborne said. "You can't put the ball on the ground (fumble) five times and expect to beat a team like Carolina. These things happen. I'm sorry it happened today."
As Wysocki put it, this was a championship game. These were supposed to be the Atlantic Coast Conferenc's two best teams, Carolina 2-0 and ranked 14th coming in, Maryland 3-0 and ranked 19th.
Today, Maryland's defense played championship-level football. The offense did not. The Maryland offense snapped the ball only 14 times during the first half. Carolina had 53 plays.
Despite Carolina's domination, the Tar Heels had a slim 3-0 lead on a Jeff Hayes 37-yard field goal in the first quarter with time running out in the half.
Then came two key fumbles -- only one of which was ruled a fumble.
Carolina had held the ball for 7 minutes and 14 plays. Coach Dick Crum had taken a 38-yard field goal off the board when Maryland's Lloyd Burruss was called offside. The Maryland defense held and this time Burruss blocked Hayes' attempt from 27 yards.
Onto the field came the Maryland offense. Wysocki had already fumbled twice, on Maryland's first two plays from scrimmage. Now he started to his left on a sweep. He was hit by Lee Shaffer and fumbled again. Greg Poole recovered for UNC at the 35.
Two plays later, Lawrence, who finished the day with 103 yards on 25 carries, tried the middle of the Maryland line. As he fell forward to the 32 the ball appeared to pop loose. A bevy of white shirts fell on it. But the officials ruled Lawrence down before the fumble.
Before that ruling was clear, the Maryland offense, thinking it had the ball, started onto the field. A yellow flag flew. The call was unsportsmanlike conduct on Maryland and the ball was moved to the 17.
"They called the play on our offense for going on the field," Claiborne said. "They pointed at our number 64, Brian Riendeau, and called the penalty. I've never seen anything like that before. I thought it was a poor judgment call."
Field Judge Joe Long, who made the call, said the penalty was for "Maryland players and coaches coming on the field."
Claiborne called time out to argue further. John Devlin, the defensive coordinator who had come down from the press box in anticipation of halftime, raged also. He eventually had to be held back by other assistant coaches because he was so upset.
The argument was fruitless. Play resumed and, on second and eight from the 15, Elkins rolled left. Lawrence, in motion on the play, also went left, then cut into the end zone, where he was wide open.With 3:27 left in the half, Carolina led 10-0.
"It was just a simple flood pattern," Crum said. "Rod did a good job picking him up."
As it turned out, those were all the points Carolina needed. But Maryland gave the UNC fans some nervous moments in the second half as the defense refused to give up when quitting would have been excusable.
The first half of the third quarter was played in Maryland territory. But the Tar Heels could not turn possession time into points and Maryland finally got somethig going.
After Hayes had missed a 39-yard field goal, the Terps took over on their own 22. Quarterback Mike Tice, who finished the day 14 of 22 for 179 yards, looked for Chris Havener, the receiving hero of the West Virginia game.
UNC's Steve Streater seemed to have the ball measured for an interception at the Maryland 45 but the ball went right through his hands. Havener somehow caught the deflected pass and romped to the Carolina 35 for Maryland's second first down of the game.
The Terps stalled there, but Dale Castro flashed his 1979 all-America form, hitting a 50-yard field goal with 7:32 left in the third quarter. Suddenly Maryland was in a game it should already have been blown out of.
"Considering all the mistakes the offense made, it's a credit to our defense that we only lost, 17-38" said Tice. "If we could have done our part a little better it might have been different. We hung in there, kept trying until the end. It just wasn't enough."
It may have been Tice's grit that caused the last key play of the game. Subjected to a strong rush by the Carolina defense, which has given up four field goals all season, Tice hung in and tried to find receivers. Early in the fourth quarter he somehow escaped the rush to find Wayne Wingfield, who played most of the second half in place of Wysocki, for an eight-yard gain to the Maryland 38.
On the next play Tice, rolling left, was again swarmed. As he raised his arm to throw, he was hit on the arm by Donnell Thompson. The ball rolled free and linebacker Lawrence Taylor scooped it up at the Maryland 30 with 14:07 left in the game.
Three plays and a Maryland penalty later, Bryant got outside on the right side of the Maryland defense and outran Brad Senft to the goal line. With 13:09 left it was 17-3, Carolina, and it was all over.
"I have to take a lot of the blame," said a disconsolate Wysocki. "I gave them the ball three times. The first time I had an open field (at the UNC 32 after a Joe Wilkins interception) and my thigh kicked the ball out. uI didn't play my game. I didn't concentrate like I should have."
The Carolina defense credited Darrell Nicholson, who knoced Wysocki cold a year ago, for the tailback's problems.
"He was looking for Darrell, not for the ball," said Taylor."After a couple of good hits, he just lost it."
"He didn't hit the holes like you usually see him do," said Nicholson, who jarred Wysocki loose from the ball on his second carry. "I think he was looking at us almost before he got the ball."
Not so, said Wysocki, who finished the day with 17 yards on 12 carries (the Terps had 32 net yards on 29 carries). "They weren't that tough," he insisted. "I thought West Virginia was as good or better. They do more talking than anything else. They play well. They don't need to mouth off."
In the end, the talking didn't matter. The hitting did. UNC had the ball for 40:36 to Maryland's 19:24 and that told the story as well as anything.
"We played their kind of game and beat them at it," Taylor said. "This was two good teams hitting each other hard all day long."
But one team hit a little bit harder.