Mistakes again proved costly to the Maryland football team yesterday against North Carolina.

After holding the nation's highest scoring Division I-A team to a 10-10 tie for 58 1/2 minutes at Byrd Stadium, the Terrapins' Mike Lewis fumbled a punt on a fair catch at the Maryland 20. The ninth-ranked Tar Heels converted it into a touchdown on the next play for a 17-10 Atlantic Coast Conference victory.

Twenty seconds later, on the first play of a drive that would end with a Maryland interception -- its sixth turnover of the game -- Terrapin quarterback Norman (Boomer) Esiason suffered a jammed neck when tackled by blitzing linebacker Calvin Daniels.

Esiason lay on the field motionless for almost 10 minutes before he was strapped on a stretcher and taken by ambulance to Washington Adventist Hospital. X-rays there were negative and he was released. J.J. Bush, the Maryland trainer, said Esiason should have a sore neck for a couple days. His availability for Saturday's game at Tulane is uncertain.

The defeat was Maryland's first in the ACC after three conference victories. North Carolina (6-1, 3-0) is a half-game behind Clemson (4-0) in the ACC. The teams play Saturday at UNC.

Maryland (3-4-1) had primed all week for this game. But Terrapin mistakes led to both Carolina touchdowns and Maryland's offense played poorly most of the afternoon (nine net yards rushing). Maryland had six fumbles, losing four, and was intercepted twice.

Lewis fumbled away two punts, but only the second cost the Terrapins points.

Jeff Hayes sent a high, 46-yard punt to Lewis, who waved for a fair catch at the Maryland 20. He ran several steps forward before lunging into the turf. The ball hit his hands and bounced away before Carolina's Larry James recovered with 1:26 to play.

"I misjudged the ball," said Lewis, who fumbled another punt return earlier in the fourth quarter. "There are no excuses at all. I just dropped it."

On the next play, quarterback Scott Stankavage, starting in place of injured Rod Elkins, passed 20 yards to Tyrone Anthony, who outran safety Wayne Wingfield into the left corner of the end zone. Stankavage finished with 17 completions in 24 attempts for 177 yards.

On the first play following the kickoff, Esiason released a pass just as he was hit by Daniels.

"This all has me feeling pretty bad," said Daniels afterward. He was staring ahead blankly and close to tears. "It hurt me to see him driven off in an ambulance. I didn't want to look. His arm was going forward to pass and I hit him under his right (nonthrowing) arm. It was perfectly legal. I just hated that it happened."

That pass, like so many thrown by Esiason (16 for 32 for 233 yards, one touchdown and one interception), was incomplete, sailing over the head of running back John Nash. But safety Bill Jackson was called for pass interference and the Terrapins moved to their 40.

Reserve Bob Milkovich came into the game and completed three straight passes, moving Maryland to the Carolina 15 with 20 seconds left.

On first down, Milkovich threw incomplete to Nash. On second down, receiver Alan Sadler fell down-- Maryland Coach Jerry Claiborne said he wanted to see the films to see if Sadler was tripped -- while running his route. No penalty was called and the pass fell incomplete with 12 seconds left.

On third down, Milkovich lofted a pass into the end zone, with no receiver within 10 yards of the ball. Defensive back Walt Black stood still as the ball floated into his arms for an interception.

Stankavage fell on the ball for the game's final play.

The North Carolina defense had thwarted Maryland all afternoon. Nash, with 40 yards, was Maryland's leading rusher. Charlie Wysocki reinjured his left shoulder in the first half after carrying three times for nine yards and did not play in the second half.

Also injured for Maryland was linebacker Joe Wilkins, who suffered a slight concussion.

"We both relied on our defenses," said North Carolina's Anthony. "I wasn't expecting a high-scoring game. If either team got points, it would be blessed."

Neither offense was blessed. The Terrapin special teams were cursed.

Carolina's Chris Perkins already had missed a 45-yard field goal attempt midway through the first quarter. And with two minutes left in the quarter, the Tar Heels again moved into field-goal positon, with Brooks Barwick lining up for this attempt.

But Maryland's Frank Kolencik blocked the kick. The Terrapins appeared headed for a big play when Howard Eubanks snatched the ball out of midair and started down the sideline nearest the Maryland bench with two blockers leading him and only the kicker between Eubanks and touchdown.

Eubanks was making a cut back to midfield when the ball slipped out of his hands at the Maryland 40. Stankavage recovered for UNC.

Carolina subsequently drove to the one, with Ethan Horton -- a reserve quarterback who was a surprise starter at tailback -- running in from the one to give the Tar Heels a 7-0 lead with 12:10 left in the first half.

The Terps narrowed the score to 7-3 six minutes into the third quarter on Jesse Atkinson's 37-yard field goal. That drive was kept going by a third-and-17 pass completion from Esiason to Lewis and a 27-yard penalty for unnecessary roughness.

Maryland took the lead, 10-7, with 9:30 remaining on Esiason's four-yard touchdown pass to tight end Bill Pugh. Maryland's biggest offensive play of the day, and the key to that 78-yard drive, was Esiason's 41-yard pass to Lewis, who side-stepped cornerback Willie Harris before being tackled at the four.

Carolina, realizing it had to pass the football, moved 55 yards on its next possession, which ended with Barwick tying the game, 10-10, on a 35-yard field goal with 3:45 to play.

Stankavage completed four passes for 40 yards in that drive.