Maryland and Wake Forest slashed, sloshed and slammed one another in sun, rain and wind for almost three hours yesterday. When the Atlantic Coast Conference game was over, Maryland walked off with an 11-10 victory that was so strange few people were sure of the final score.
The hero for the Terps (4-3) was Mark Wilson, a transfer from Ferum (Va.) College, the last recruit signed this summer after several other players had opted for other schools. Wilson earned his scholarship when he sacked Wake quarterback Jay Venuto in the end zone for the game-winning safety.
"It was just a blitz and we had an outside rush on," said Wilson, a junior from Charlottesville. "The back tried to block me but I got through quick enough to get the quarterback."
The winning points came with about 10 minutes left. It is impossible to be more precise because the scoreboard and the clock had gone dead just prior to the safety. It was that kind of afternoon.
"The whole thing was straight out of Boris Karloff," said Maryland quarterback Bob Milkovich, who played almost the entire game after Mike Tice was forced out by a hip pointer on the first play. "When it got dark the way it did, I was afraid this was going to be one of those games that haunted me."
In the end it will be a game that haunts Wake Coach John Mackovic. He was a loser using the same tactic that helped build his program from shambles to respectability -- the gamble.
The deacons (3-3) had taken control of the game in the third quarter, opening a 10-9 lead on a Wayne McMillan one-yard plunge and a 39-yard Phil Denfeld field goal with 1:17 left. Those scores offset Maryland's two second-quarter scores, a 36-yard Dale Castro field goal and a one-yard Wayne Wingfield plunge.
Shortly after Denfeld's field goal, the darkened skies opened and the 36,472 in the stands were drenched.
The rain proved to be both an omen and a factor. It started to come down hard with about 13 minutes left. Maryland had the wind and the rain at its back in the fourth quarter and, trailing by a point, the Terps were content to be patient.
"We didn't want to panic," said Coach Jerry Claiborne. "We didn't want to start throwing the ball around and try to get it back too quick and make a mistake. We knew if we were patient, Dale would keep punting them deep and we would eventually have a chance to get field position." p
They did better than that. With the rain at its worst and the field so dark it was difficult to see, Castro got off a booming punt that Wake returner Kenny Duckett dared not try to catch. The ball was touched down at the Wake two.
McMillan then went up the middle for three. Then, on second and seven, Mackovic took his fatal risk. He called for Venuto (23 completions in 42 tries, but intercepted four times and sacked seven times) to pass out of the end zone.
"We thought it was a good gamble," Mackovic said. "It's a risky play but I saw Ara Parseghian win a Sugar Bowl once with that play. If you execute, it's a good call. If you don't, it's a bad call."
This time it was a bad call. Maryland had called a blitz. Before Venuto could look for potential receivers Kenny Duckett and Bill Ruffner, Wilson was on him.
If not for that play, Maryland might not have had a chance. The Terps had controlled most of the first half, pressuring Venuto constantly and with enough offense to produce a 9-0 lead.
Castro's field goal came after Steve Trimble had returned a punt 24 yards to the Wake Forest 22 and the Terps netted three yards on three plays.
Wingfield's touchdown came after Brad Senft had hit Venuto's arm, resulting in a Howard Eubanks interception of the pass that popped straight up at the Wake 47. A 31-yard Milkovich-to-John Tice pass and a 15-yard Charlie Wysocki run -- he carried 27 times for 97 yards -- put the ball on the one for Wingfield's dive.
"We looked okay then," said safety Ralph Lary, "then in the second half everything turned weird."
Before it got weird it got scary. Senft, who looked like Venuto's dance partner the first half because he spent so much time in the Deacon backfield, went down on the second play of the half with a jammed neck. He was removed from the field on a stretcher and the stadium, virtually silent during the lackluster first half, was even more quiet.
Then came some burlesque as the teams traded four turnovers within five minutes. Twice, Lloyd Burruss intercepted Venuto passes only to see the offense hand the ball right back, the first time on a Rick Fasano fumble. Then, Eric Sievers bobbled a Milkovich pass and it ended in the hands of surprised linebacker Carlos Bradley.
From there, the dormant Deacons finally moved. Two passes to Wayne Baumgardner set up McMillan's plunge with 6:06 left in the quarter. On their next series, Denfeld kicked his 39-yard field goal.
Things looked dark for Maryland. But then it really got dark and the Terps got the break they needed to get the lead. "Our defense played well enough to win," Mackovic said. "It's time our offense came around."
The offense certainly tried. But the Maryland defense, led all day by an inspired Marlin Van Horn, came up with what it needed to hang on. Backup linebacker Mike Muller stopped Henderson Threatt on fourth and inches. Ed Gall, who had his first career interception during the first half, stopped another by sacking Venuto. Finally, from midfield on the final play of the game, Venuto tried a Hail-Mary pass to Baumgardner.
The ball dropped harmlessly to the soaked turn and Maryland had escaped the Twilight Zone with a victory.
There was another bizarre twist, as well. Maryland's coaches were forced to communicate with walkie-talkies after telephone power went out in the press box during the rain. Assistant Coach Jerry Eisaman was talking to the Maryland bench from the press box when a voice interrupted and said, 'Get off this frequency, it's a police emergency frequency."
"It is an emergency," Eisaman said. "It's third down."
Moments after the marathon had ended, Claiborne, soaked and exhausted summed the day up best. "This," he said, "is a tough way to make a living."