Walk-on freshman Dan Plocki didn't get the word until Friday night that he had won a two-week kicking competition and today would get his first chance to try field goals for the University of Maryland. But for much of the game, he was the Terrapins' only effective weapon in a 26-3 Atlantic Coast Conference victory over Wake Forest in Groves Stadium.
Plocki made four of five field goal attempts, including a 45-yarder that hit the crossbar and bounced over to give Maryland a 6-3 lead before halftime.
"I hit it pretty well, and I started to walk off the field as I usually do," Plocki said. "But I saw Dan Henning, my holder, still watching. I turned around just in time to see it bounce over."
In the second half, Stan Gelbaugh hit Azizuddin Abdur-Ra'oof for touchdown passes of 39 and 42 yards, and Plocki kicked two more field goals to give the Terrapins some cushion.
Maryland's defense has become the team's mainstay. It sacked Wake Forest's Jamie Harris six times and rushed him into bad passes at least six times. "We feel like we can get to anybody," said guard Bruce Mesner, who was in on three sacks.
Maryland's offense obviously was rusty after a week off. Three times the Terrapins got inside the 20 -- twice inside the five -- and had to settle for field goals, which left Coach Bobby Ross irritated, at the least.
"The thing about this game that slaps me in the face is that we've got to get that goal-line offense right," he said. "We've got to score touchdowns down there. We're going to get that right if we have to scrimmage next week."
Maryland (4-2 overall, 2-0 in the ACC) certainly was efficient enough before it got inside the 10. Gelbaugh completed 13 of 26 passes for 275 yards and two touchdowns. Abdur-Ra'oof picked up 116 yards in four receptions. And Tommy Neal, in only eight carries, rushed for 56 yards.
If Maryland had executed its goal-line offense properly, the score would have been more like 35-3.
It was easy to see why Wake Forest (3-4 overall, 0-3 ACC) has not beaten a Division I-A team this season. The Deacons were without injured Foy White, perhaps the league's best quarterback, but that's little excuse for some of the blunders they made today.
Maryland was not without its mistakes early. A pass interference penalty and an offside penalty (nullifying a blocked field goal) allowed Doug Illing to kick a 38-yard field goal to give the Deacons a 3-0 lead at the end of the first quarter.
"This falling behind has been the pattern for the last couple of years," linebacker Scott Schankweiler said. "We're trying to change it. We go out and say, 'Let's not get behind. Let's do it right from the start.' But we keep doing it."
Maryland tied it early in the second quarter on a 26-yard field goal by Plocki. But the Terrapins, after getting to the 17 on a 62-yard screen pass to Neal, ran the ball five straight times with little success. The Terrapins finally threw, on third and eight, incomplete.
"There were a lot of breakdowns," Gelbaugh said. "We ought to be able to run it in down there; we've done it in the past. But we should be able to throw down there, also. It's something we'll have to work on."
After the next drive produced Plocki's 45-yard bouncer that made it 6-3 with 3:05 left before halftime, Maryland might have benefited from some questionable play-calling on the part of Wake Forest Coach Al Groh.
The Deacons got the ball to the Maryland 41, where they faced third and one. Harris threw a sharp pass to James Brim, but safety Al Covington spiked the ball to the ground for an incompletion. Wake Forest had two timeouts, and 36 seconds remained. But Groh decided to punt the ball away.
When asked about his decision not to call time out and set up a fourth-and-one play, Groh replied, "How do you think a timeout would have helped us? We had one left. And we were going to use it on the next possession."
Actually, Wake Forest had two timeouts, and Groh used both of them after the punt to the three.
Wake Forest didn't get the ball back, however, and many fans booed loudly. Some of the 23,700 left before the second half started.
Maryland finally got its offense going in the third quarter. Gelbaugh, recognizing Wake Forest's defense was covering Abdur-Ra'oof man to man, audibled a slant pattern and hit his fleet receiver, who beat cornerback Marvin Young with a 10-yard pass that turned into a 39-yard touchdown for a 13-3 lead.
Groh took Young out of the lineup immediately "for a combination of circumstances," he said. The circumstances might have been Abdur-Ra'oof's 4.37 speed in the 40 and the fact that he had two-thirds of the field to work his pattern. Poor Young.
"People are going to have trouble covering Ziz man to man," Gelbaugh said in a bit of understatement.
Ross said he would wait until this week to decide whether Plocki or Ramon Paredes, who had been the regular until this week, would kick next Saturday against Duke. Plocki's only miss was a 48-yarder against the wind.
Paredes fell into disfavor by missing several attempts this season, including a poorly kicked 31-yard attempt that would have tied the score early against Michigan in what turned into a 20-0 loss.
After a 24-yard field goal by Plocki and a 33-yarder, Maryland got the ball back when O'Brien Alston intercepted Harris (21 for 38 for 166 yards).
And on the next play, Gelbaugh hit Abdur-Ra'oof over the middle for the final score.
From there, Harris could do little against Maryland's defense, which allowed only 230 yards offense. "We weren't blitzing and stunting much today," Schankweiler said. "We didn't do a lot fancy."