Maybe what happened again today will be Maryland's fate this season, to scare the jerseys off a very good team but not quite win, to watch in frustration as the catch of the year comes from the opposition and a play designed for victory is doomed before it has a chance to develop.

The Terrapins will remember two plays in their 19-18 loss to West Virginia for ever so long. For them, Rich Hollins is both awful and awesome. How in heavens could a human stretch himself so far? How could anyone fly, catch and then hold a football thrown half a field away?

Well, Rich?

"Perfect pass," he said of the fourth-quarter touchdown play.

The Mountaineer wideout was playing catch with a youngster a few seconds after a game both terrific and terrible, gently tossing him up and then cradling him against his chest. They were only a few yards from where Hollins had been heroic.

Now he was being modest.

Too modest.

"Right over my shoulder," he insisted.

But surely too long. A fellow with decent eyesight in the press box had literally written off that Jeff Hostetler pass halfway in flight. No way it gets caught. Hollins would need a second-stage booster just to get close. The closest Terrapin, Lendell Jones, agreed.

"I thought I had him all the way," Jones said, "so well in fact that I didn't think there was any way the quarterback could lay the ball in there."

Hollins got better than close.

In the end zone, he dove. Parallel to the fake turf, Hollins turned his head and reached. Damned if the ball wasn't right there; he wasn't about to let go, crash-landing into an orange end-zone marker with it. Officially, the play was 35 yards, though Hostetler was far behind the line when he fired.

"We work on that," Hollins said.

Even on the dive?

"Yeah."

The Terrapins work on the two-point play that could have brought them a one-point victory and gobs of glory in the last 99 seconds. Beating the team that beat Oklahoma--in Norman--would have been quite a coup for Bobby Ross in his second game as Maryland coach.

"We work on two-point conversions three of the four days we practice," quarterback Boomer Esiason said.

They got to where Boomer's legs or left arm, on a run/pass option, would determine their fate against the 17th-ranked Mountaineers in an odd way. The offense sputtered more than it sailed, seemed to a record number of witnesses more conservative than the statistics argued. Had there been only one more run than pass?

Yep.

Long-distance flight rarely worked. Sometimes the nasty Mountaineers were the reason; sometimes passes were far enough off target to suggest botched routes, as though the quarterback had one play in mind and the receiver another.

There were two interceptions and one lost fumble. With about seven minutes left, Spencer Scriber was sinfully open about 35 yards from Esiason. Rolling right, Esiason need only to loft the ball in the general direction of this swift turtle for a touchdown.

No need to worry about West Virginia defenders; none were in sight.

Boomer threw; Boomer busted, the ball landing on about the only spot it could not do Maryland any good -- out of bounds. Of course, there was the annual fumbled punt that also cost the Terrapins points. And so did a Mountaineer place-kicker from Falls Church, Paul Woodside.

He carried an entire team on his 170-pound frame, until Hollins flew with flypaper hands.

Maryland eventually scored on the drive Esiason missed Scriber, but more than five minutes later. No time for anything but two points, in Ross's mind. The coach never considered kicking for a tie.

He did consider another play than the one that failed.

"They asked me which I was most confident with," Esiason said, "and we went with it. But they read it real well, or expected it. It seemed like they expected it."

Ross said aides in the press box saw a missed Terrapin block; West Virginians believe mean Darryl Talley simply ate Ron Fazio as a snack while hustling toward his quarterback entree, Esiason.

Trapped, with Talley in his face and Ed Hughes also ready to pounce, Esiason had no choice but to flip a prayer toward the end zone and hope a teammate could imitate Dwight Clark. Fazio stretched; not Clark, not even Hollins this day could come close.

For the second straight week, The Terrapins growled about the officials--and seemed justified in doing it.

"We got rooked," Esiason said.

He was referring to two judgments that went against Maryland. On one, a West Virginia receiver dropped the ball and a Marylander grabbed it. One official signaled Maryland's ball; another overruled him, said the play already had finished and the completion counted.

"And Hostetler fumbled," Esiason said. "No way he was passing (when hit by the Terrapins, as the officials ruled). We got shafted on both of those. I was on the sidelines, saw 'em both clearly, was ready to go in. Big turnaround."

Ross also was livid, but for another reason.

"What bothered me," he said, "was that the guy who ruled in our behalf came over to me and said: 'Your guy (an official from the Atlantic Coast Conference) overruled us.' He's not our guy, he's an official. That really disturbed me."