The final score said that nothing had changed. Fourteenth-ranked Penn State showed up to play Maryland, threw its blue-and-white jerseys on the field and walked away with a 24-10 victory.
The scoreboard lied.
The final figures were correct, the outcome the same but the 60 minutes of football that 48,123 witnessed at Byrd Stadium yesterday had nothing in common with the onesided Maryland-Penn State games of the recent past.
This was a game the Terrapins (3-3) could have won. There was no early fold, no conservative game plan that dug a hole too deep to climb out of.
"I thought it was a good, tough football game," Maryland Coach Jerry Claiborne said, his usually strident voice so soft it was almost a whisper. "I was proud of the way our kids fought. They never did quit."
Neither did Penn State. The Lions (4-l) found themselves in a 10-3 hole early in the tghird quarter after Charlie Wysocki, who gained 135 yards on 29 carries for the day, went in from five yards out behind an offensive line that looked tough enough to take on the Pittsburgh Steelers.
But Penn State is not Penn State for nothing. Like a fighter who has taken a hard punch but not fallen, the Nittany Lions shook their heads clear and roared back.
After Wysocki's touchdown, they scored on their next three possessions. They went 80 yards in six plays to tie the score, then moved 48 yards in 10 plays to go ahead. They finally capped the scoring by going 34 yards in seven plays to build their insurmountable two-touchdown lead with 11:54 left in the game.
"I told the team at halftime that we needed a big play," Penn State Coach Moe Paterno said. "We needed a big pass or a crack (in the line) for a big run."
It was the crack that turned the game around. The Wysocki touchdown had sent the Maryland bench into ecstasy, to the point that Claiborne called the offense around him to tell his players not to get over-excited.
"The feeling we had was indescribable," Jan Carinci said. "None of us had ever been ahead of Penn State. We were flying, we were together, almost like one."
That lead, the first for a Maryland team against Penn State since 1974, lasted exactly 2:27. The Lions quickly moved from their 20 to their 45. Then came the crack. Fullback Booker Moore flashed through it, cut to the sideline and was gone, 55 yards to the end zone. The lead Maryland had worked so hard to build was gone.
"If there was one truly big play in the game, that was it," Claiborne said.
"That whole series was big. I told our defense before it went out that if we could hold them, we'd be in real good shape."
But the defense, hurting up front with defensive end Pete Glamp in street clothes and three other linemen -- Brad Senft (hip), Mike Corvino (hand) and Marlin Van Horn (dizziness) -- playing hurt, could not hold.
"If we could have held them on that series, we all felt like the offense could take the ball and score again," said Van Horn, who came out just before Moore's run. "We played too well to lose by that score. We could have won. In fact, we should have won."
The touchdown by Moore (10 carries for 98 yards) seemed to wake up Penn State. The Lions had looked sluggish the first 30 minutes, turning the ball over twice while Maryland controled most of the play. In fact, PSU was lucky to leave the field at the half tied, 3-3.
"If we could have been ahead at the half, I think it might have helped," Corvino said. "We thought we deserved to be in the lead but we weren't.
They weren't ahead because Penn State put together a brilliant goal-line stand early in the second quarter. Steve Trimble's interception of a Blackledge pass put the Terps in business at the Penn State 29. Tice, 10 of 18 for the day for 117 yards, hit Eric Sievers for nine yards and then picked up nine more himself for a first down at the two.
Three times the Terps went to Wysocki. Three times he was met by half the state of Pennsylvania. "On the last one, I picked the wrong hole," said Wysocki, misty-eyed moments after the game. "I have to give them credit, though. They're a tough football team."
Dale Castro kicked an 18-yard field goal after the visitor's stand to tie the score at 3-3, Penn State's Herb Menhardt having kicked a 44-yard field goal in the first quarter.
Maryland dominated the rest of the half but stopped itself from taking the lead. The most crucial mistake came with the Terps on the Penn State 45. Tice found Chris Havener over the middle for 13 yards to the 32. But Mike Lewis was called for offensive pass interference and Maryland ended up back on its 40. That killed the drive.
Still, the halftime deadlock was a major improvement over the teams' last three meetings, when Penn State outscored Maryland, 81-19. "We got in here at halftime and the first thing everyone wanted to do was turn around and go back out there," Carinci said. "We felt great."
They felt even better during the opening minutes of the second half. Blackledge fumbled on the third play of the half and Senft jumped on the ball giving the Terps possession at their 42.
Wysocki did much of the work but Tice and Carinci chipped in with a 16-yard hookup and Maryland flew down the field in eight plays, culminating with Wysocki's well-escorted trip into the end zone with 10:49 left.
"I thought we had them," Havener said. "We all thought the first touchdown was going to be real important and, when we got it, I thought we were going to do it. But Penn State always seems to find a way. They neve never got bothered. They just came right back."
"We weren't worried," said Curt Warner (22 carries for 100 yards). We had been behind before. We just kept playing."
Indeed. After Moore's dash tied it up, the Penn State defense made Maryland punt after three plays for the first time since the game's initial series. Freshman Jonathan Williams returned Castro's punt 20 yards to the Maryland 48 and Penn State was in business.
The Lions quickly moved to third and three at the Maryland 15, than appeared to get a break when linebacker Joe Wilkins was called for interfering with Brad Scovill at the eight. Three palys later from the five, Blackledge, who played more like a senior than a sophomore who red-shirted last year, found freshman Kenny Jackson about a foot into the end zone. Even with Steve Trimble and Ralph Lary hanging all over him, Jackson held on and, with 1:22 left in the third quarter, PSU was ahead 17-10.
"They needed a perfect pass and a perfect catch, and they got it," Claiborne said. "Just a super play."
Now, the Terps were beginning to feel the noose tighten around their necks. After the kickoff, they moved to the Penn State 42. But there, on third and seven, Tice tried to force a throw into the middle to Havener. Linebacker Chet Parlavecchio, taking a deep drip, picked it off and didn't stop running until he reached the Maryland 34.
"That was the one time all day I didn't follow my reads," a disgusted Tice said. "I wanted the first down and I forced it a little. It cost us."
By now the Penn State offense, which ground out 272 yards on the ground the second half after being held to 25 on 21 carries the first half, was ready for the coup de grace . It came on third and goal from the six. Williams, a quarterback in high school, started to sweep right. He pulled up and found Mike Meade, who had taken up solitary residence in the end zone, for the clinching touchdown pass with 11:54 left.
"We played well. I don't think anyone can question our effort," Sievers said. "But every year something happens; something goes wrong and they end up on top."
But this year, Penn State had to work to get there.