Maryland narrowly avoided another fourth-quarter disaster yesterday when Duke's Scott McKinney missed a 42-yard field goal attempt with two seconds left, allowing the Terrapins to slip out of Byrd Stadium with a 24-21 homecoming victory.
The victory ties the Terrapins with Clemson for the ACC lead going into Saturday's home game against third-ranked North Carolina, which lost its first game yesterday.
Maryland, 3-3-1 overall, is 3-0 in the Atlantic Coast Conference, mostly because senior tailback Charlie Wysocki, despite a painful bruised left shoulder, rushed 22 times for 143 yards and two touchdowns and return man Tim Quander ran 92 yards with a kickoff early in the first quarter.
Wysocki's 54-yard touchdown run 11 minutes into the game gave the Terrapins a 21-7 lead and enabled him to pass Steve Atkins as Maryland's all-time leading rusher. Wysocki, who as a precaution sat out most of the second half, has 443 yards this season and 3,045 for his career.
Duke played without five defensive starters, who were injured.
Maryland scored all its points in the first half. Jesse Atkinson's 39-yard field goal with 6:09 remaining in the second quarter gave the Terrapins a 24-7 lead and proved to be Maryland's winning points.
It was Duke's fourth-quarter surge -- not his own record-setting performance -- that made Wysocki's heart race yesterday.
"Late in the fourth quarter, I was just praying," Wysocki said. "Things just started going Duke's way, and I started praying."
With good reason.
Maryland had blown three fourth-quarter leads this season. The Terrapins appeared secure with a 24-14 lead with 8:09 to play yesterday. But this team hasn't done anything the easy way all season.
Quarterback Ben Bennett, who completed 31 of 46 passes for 397 yards, engineered a nine-play, 89-yard drive that pulled Duke within three points with 5:11 left.
Beginning at his 11 after a Maryland punt, Bennett hit Ron Frederick for 23 yards. After a six-yard rushing loss -- Duke gained only four yards rushing in 27 carries -- Bennett passed 12 yards to Cedric Jones, five yards to Mark Militello, then 20 yards to Jones, putting the Devils on the Maryland 35.
On third and 10, after two incomplete passes, Bennett hit a sliding Mike Grayson for first down at the 23. Bennett then went back to Jones, Duke's all-time leading pass receiver, who beat sophomore cornerback Clarence Baldwin for an easy 23-yard touchdown reception.
After the kickoff, Maryland started play at its 29, but gained only six yards in three plays. Quarterback Bob Milkovich, playing in place of slightly injured starter Norman (Boomer) Esiason (bruised right knee), then missed on a third-down pass. Steve Adams punted again, and Duke took over on its 23 with 3:31 remaining.
Bennett completed seven of his next nine passes for 51 yards (plus a four-yard run), moving Duke to the Maryland 26 with 12 seconds left. He missed a pass to Grayson on first down, then threw the ball out of bounds with two seconds left to set up the game's final play.
"Right then I was thinking, 'Here we go again,' " said Esiason, referring to Syracuse's 17-17, last minute, come-from-behind tie in Byrd Stadium three weeks ago.
McKinney, a senior who had already missed from 44 and 38 yards, lined up for a 42-yard attempt with a slight breeze at his back. The ball had plenty of distance, but traveled wide right as time ran out.
"We finally got a break. Two weeks ago, that field goal would have been good," said Esiason, who left in the second quarter after a Blue Devil's helmet bruised his right knee. Esiason said he could have returned, and will practice on Monday.
Before many in the crowd of 31,800 had settled in their seats yesterday, Duke was on top, 7-0.
Duke began the game at its eight. On the first play from scrimmage, from the shotgun formation, Bennett passed 43 yards over the middle to Jones, who beat defensive backs Dave Taylor, Billy McFadden and Jon Simmons. Grayson, from the tailback position, carried 20 yards to the Terrapin 28, after being hit in the backfield by two Maryland linemen.
Bennett then found Jones, free over the middle again, for the touchdown, with only 70 seconds gone in the game. "When they threw down the middle like that, we just weren't playing well," said Maryland Coach Jerry Claiborne. However, Maryland came right back.
Quander, a junior from Seat Pleasant, took the ensuing kickoff, followed superb blocks from Mike Lewis and Russell Davis to midfield before cutting left and running down the Duke sideline to complete a 92-yard touchdown run. Emmett Tilley blocked Atkinson's extra-point conversion, keeping the Blue Devils ahead, 7-6, only 83 seconds into the game.
After a Duke punt gave Maryland possession at its 42, Wysocki ran for 12 yards on first down, Esiason completed two passes, and Davis ran 12 yards to the 17. Wysocki, behind blocks from Dave Pacella and Brian Riendeau, ran a fake reverse wide left for the score. He also ran the two-point conversion to give the Terrapins a 14-7 lead with more than nine minutes to play in the first quarter.
Six minutes later, after McKinney's first missed field goal, Wysocki ran 54 yards for a 21-7 Maryland lead. Pacella, who had been verbally encouraging Wysocki all week, explained the play.
"Duke was stringing their tackles out wide to stop our sweeps," Pacella said. "So on that play -- a 'Sweep 48' -- we pushed them all the way to the sideline, and Charlie cut in."
Duke drove 81 yards on its next possession, as Mike Atkinson took a pitchout and ran in from the one, cutting Maryland's lead at 21-14 with one minute left to play in the first quarter.
But Maryland's Atkinson, who had suffered a hip pointer on an earlier conversion attempt, kicked his 39-yard, second-quarter field goal, making Maryland's lead 24-14.