After playing conservatively for most of today's game against 17th-ranked West Virginia, Maryland finally dared to be bold. Bypassing a chance to tie, the Terrapins unsuccessfully tried a two-point conversion pass in the final two minutes and lost, 19-18, before a record crowd of 56,042 at Mountaineer Field.
The Terrapins pulled within a point on freshman Rick Badanjek's three-yard touchdown run with 1:39 to play. It ended a 75-yard, 16-play drive that began with 7:20 to play.
On the attempt for the two-point conversion, quarterback Boomer Esiason, pressured heavily by linebacker Darryl Talley, threw incomplete to tight end Ron Fazio in the end zone. Not only was Fazio well covered, but he said he also ran an incorrect pattern.
After converting four third-down plays in the drive, including Bajandek's touchdown run, Maryland called a timeout so Coach Bobby Ross and Esiason could decide which two-point play to call. "I never hesitated in my decision to go for two points," said Ross.
The play started with receiver Mike Lewis running in motion to his left. Fazio was supposed to run left also, but didn't. Esiason rolled left, and under a heavy rush from Talley, passed toward Fazio. The ball hit the turf, and Maryland's only hope was to recover an onside kickoff. But the Mountaineers recovered and ran out the clock.
"I ran the wrong pattern," Fazio said. "I don't know if it was a lack of concentration or not. It was a tight-end delay pass. I didn't hear the switch in the huddle. I didn't know it was called to go to my side. It's totally my fault."
"My gut reaction right now," Ross said, "is that I might have called another play."
Said Esiason: "We have about four or five two-point coversion plays we could have run. I wanted to run that play because it would give me two receivers directly in front of me. Obviously, my choice was wrong because they knew what we were doing. Talley was right in front of my face the whole play."
Offensive mistakes again were costly to Maryland (0-2). The Terrapins had three turnovers (two interceptions and a fumble, when Lewis dropped a fair-catch punt) today after making four turnovers and getting a punt blocked in a 39-31 opening-game loss at Penn State.
In that game, the Maryland offense was diversified and imaginative, keeping Penn State off balance. Today Maryland rushed on 41 plays and passed a school record 40 times, Esiason completing 24 for 217 yards and a touchdown. But the passing was concentrated at the end of each half, including 13 in Maryland's final two possessions.
Asked afterward why Maryland played more conservatively this week, Ross said that nose guard Dave Oblak gave his linemen trouble, that West Virginia frequently used a nickel defense and that he thought the Terrapins could exploit a mismatch in which 6-foot-5 tight end John Tice usually was blocking a small defensive back.
Maryland held Jeff Hostetler, who threw four touchdown passes last week in West Virginia's upset of Oklahoma, to one today. That was a 35-yarder on which Rich Hollins made a diving catch as he crashed into an end-zone flag early in the fourth quarter for a 16-12 lead.
Kicker Paul Woodside, a sophomore from Falls Church, Va., scored West Virginia's other points, on four field goals and a conversion. A 20-yarder, his 10th straight success dating back to last year's Peach Bowl, made it 19-12 with 10 1/2 minutes to play. The teams then exchanged punts before Maryland began its final possession.
But Maryland should have been ahead in the fourth quarter, instead of having to rally.
The Terrapins took a 9-6 lead 35 seconds before halftime on Esiason's 10-yard touchdown pass to Russell Davis.
But with six minutes left in the third quarter, Lewis, who had a tough time catching the football, fumbled a fair-catch punt and Talley recovered at the Maryland 30. But the Terrapins, who gave up only 46 yards rushing today, held and Woodside kicked a 41-yard field goal for a 9-9 tie.
West Virginia fumbled away a punt return on its next series, but Maryland also failed to move, settling for Jesse Atkinson's 49-yard field goal and a 12-9 lead with two minutes left in the third quarter.
Hostetler, who completed 19 of 37 for 285 yards, completed two 21-yard passes to wide receiver Darrell Miller, then completed the touchdown pass to Hollins for a 16-12 lead.
That drive involved a controversial officiating call. On third and 10 from his 20, Hostetler threw a 19-yard pass to Darrell Miller. He appeared to have fumbled the ball when hit by safety Billy McFadden. One official called a fumble, but the one closest to the play overruled him, calling the pass complete for a first down.
Four minutes later, Woodside kicked his final field goal. His two field goals in the first half, of 43 and 44 yards, had given West Virginia a 6-2 lead after Maryland opened the game with a safety, when Hostetler was called for intentionally grounding a pass thrown from the end zone.