They had been pressed up against the security guards for most of the fourth quarter, waiting for what had seemed inevitable until those last agonizing moments. They had waited through three hours of gut-wrenching football. They had waited through North Carolina's final, desperate drive that had ended in a touchdown which cut Maryland's lead to 28-26.
But now, as Scott Stankavage's hurried, misdirected two-point conversion pass rolled off of Tyrone Anthony's clutching fingers and fell to the ground, Maryland's students stopped waiting. They surged past the security guards to join their heroes in celebration.
For an entire game, one that began in bright autumn sunlight and ended in bright artificial light, Maryland's students seemed to try to will their team to victory. Once, Maryland's students did not feel a part of their football team. The players lived in an athletic dorm, they ate together and played together.
"Having the players live around campus has made a big difference in the way students feel about this team I think," said Col. Tom Fields, the school's chief fund raiser who graduated from Maryland in 1942. "They really do feel as if they're part of this football team."
Five weeks ago, after Frank Reich quarterbacked the Terrapins past Pittsburgh with an injured Boomer Esiason on the sidelines, the two quarterbacks ran across the field at game's end to present the student body with the game ball. If they had tried that yesterday, they would have been crushed. What's more, by the time they arrived, no one would have been left because the students had turned the playing field into a sea of red.
But their first surge was premature. As they charged past the security guards and began tearing down the goal post at the west end of the field, there were still 22 seconds left on the clock and Carolina still had to be given the chance to try an onside kick.
Maryland recovered the kick, and when the final seconds ticked away, the Terrapins, following pregame instructions, began hoisting various seniors onto their shoulders. Both goal posts were down. In the bedlam, Carolina Coach Dick Crum searched in vain for Maryland Coach Bobby Ross, but Ross was surrounded by the revelers.
It was Halloween, Christmas and New Year's rolled into one. Maryland's students have had the chance to celebrate truly huge victories in basketball in recent years, but never has the football team won a game that meant this much in this stadium.
Everyone hugged everyone and the phrase repeated again and again was, "We did it, we finally did it." (Remember, Maryland beat North Carolina last year in Chapel Hill.) But, when it played here for the ACC title against Clemson, the result was a loss. Exciting, but a loss.
Even the usually loquacious Esiason had trouble finding words in the immediate aftermath of a game that had everything from atmosphere to miracles to heartbreak. "I just don't know what to say," he said. "I never thought I'd see anything like this."
"All week long I felt something special on campus," Ross said. "I just felt like our students were ready to win a football game. There was just a real football attitude here and it carried over into the game. They were so behind us it was unbelievable. They did make a difference."
The students clearly felt they had made a difference. They stood in the east end zone and watched joyfully as the second goal post came down. "All I could think the last drive was 'not again, not again,'" said Joe Dennis, a senior who, like almost everyone else wore a button which read, "Defeat The Dirty Feet."
"I've come to every game since I was a freshmen and every big game, no matter what you knew, somehow, we'd find a way to blow it. But you know what, on that last play, the two-point thing, I thought we'd hold 'em. I really did. God, thank God."
Jack Faber, who first taught here in 1927 and has seen Maryland football teams from Bryant to Tatum to Claiborne to Ross, was one of the few who noticed the gesture made to the students by Esiason and Reich after the Pitt game. "I thought that was one of the most special things I've seen here in all my years," Faber said. "It would be hard to top that."
Yesterday, the Terrapins found a way.