Maybe Jess Atkinson would have made it from 52 yards; maybe not. The way Penn State wins these dizzy games with Maryland, stray buckshot meant for a squirrel a mile away might have drifted into Beaver Stadium and blown the ball to smithereens halfway to the goal post.

There are about half a dozen plausible reasons a last-gasp kick more than half the length of the field might not have worked for the Terrapins here today; there is no excuse for Atkinson not getting a chance to try it.

"Holy bedlam," Coach Bobby Ross described it.

All Maryland does is practice the scenario it blew twice a week or so. For lack of anything better, we'll call what should have happened the "kill play." It's a sure-fire way for a team with no timeouts to stop the clock; instead, the kill play killed Maryland.

With dead aim on as thrilling a victory as any of its frustrated faithful could imagine, Maryland shot itself in the foot. Twice. The first time came when Ross ordered an onsides kickoff with 1:52 and three timeouts left; the second was somebody going goofy on the sideline the final four seconds.

For most of the fourth quarter, Maryland had been poised and efficient, scoring twice and eventually escaping from third and 23 at its 15 just to get to the near-ultimate in exasperation.

From gutsy and inspirational, Maryland lapsed into the sort of funk not unfamiliar against the Lions. It's Sinatra on the final bars of "My Way" suddenly sounding like Porky Pig.

Some might scold Ross for not trying a two-point conversion after the first final-period touchdown instead of the second; not I. Waiting until the end puts at least as much pressure on the defense as the offense.

Some also will wonder why that failed two-point pass was not directed at a more reliable receiver than Greg Hill. In truth, Hill was third option and both others were covered.

"I'll take responsibility," quarterback Stan Gelbaugh said. "I didn't put the ball where he could catch it."

The ball went through Hill's hands, but it was thrown so high and so hard that Len Bias might not have been able to grab it and also stay in bounds.

Even Ross is wondering why he did not have enough confidence in his defense to order something much longer than that squib kickoff after Maryland pulled to 25-24.

"With hindsight," he said, "I might do if differently. If I had it to take over, I might have kicked it long."

As it was, Maryland had a decent chance at pouncing on the onsides one-hopper. It bounded off one Lion, but another -- and Marylander Steve Smith at that -- gathered it in.

Probably, Atkinson would have sailed a no-return kickoff into the end zone; since Penn State did not get a first down the entire fourth quarter, it probably would have punted from just inside its 30 instead of just inside midfield.

Twenty yards closer to Atkinson's range would have made passing -- and thinking -- quite a lot easier at the end. Ross was enraged. At everybody and nobody; at what he couldn't control and what he could.

His thoughts tumbled out like loose footballs now and then, bouncing this way one instant and that way the next:

"Someone . . . sideline . . . told the quarterback just to kill it, to kill it . . . field goal . . . total bedlam . . . the ultimate person responsible is myself."

The only person who kept his wits might have been the holder, Dan Henning. Everybody was going every which way, and the only thing Henning could think to do was what he did.

"I just said: 'Gimme the ball,' " he said. And Henning threw it out of bounds, as Gelbaugh would have done had he not suddenly seen the field-goal guys dashing toward him.

The clock still showed one second. Maryland was penalized for what was called illegal procedure but actually was loss of mind, the ball was placed five yards backward and immediately put in play.

One tick; the end.

Over and over, the embarrassment popped back in Ross's thoughts. Of all the things that could go haywire, why something so bizarre? Most of his emotions were raw.

"No team faced more adversity," he said. "I've never seen a team fight any harder. I don't see how you could ask any more. God bless 'em, they played their hearts out. I know Penn State played hard, but it's just awful somebody had to lose."

Ross wanted to dwell on the positive, to look ahead; he couldn't.

Holding his head in his hands, he moaned: "I just wish we had a chance." Slapping his hands on a table, he muttered: "I just wish whoever had hollered 'field goal' hadn't."

The procedure had gone so well in practice, "but 84,000 people aren't at practice . . . We had it planned, we'd decided what to do (before the final drive). There wasn't anything else.

"With eight seconds left, we completed the pass. That stops the clock. You line up quickly, snap the ball as soon as it's in play and then throw it out of bounds.

"You've killed the clock; then you walk on for the field goal. Somehow or other, it got away."