North Carolina Coach Dick Crum said he knew coming in that Maryland was a better football team. But perhaps not even Crum knew how much better the Terrapins would be in this game.
Rick Badanjek rushed for 88 yards and three touchdowns, and Maryland's defense forced the Tar Heels into bizarre plays, like a fourth-and-25 fake punt, in yesterday's 28-10 homecoming victory before 49,800 at Byrd Stadium.
Some things have changed little through this season for Maryland, which has won four straight. Stan Gelbaugh threw an interception late in the third quarter and the Tar Heels needed only three plays to go 25 yards and come within 14-10 on Jon Hall's touchdown pass to Eric Streater. And the Terrapins were booed.
"Things could have gotten away from us right there when the crowd started getting on us," Maryland Coach Bobby Ross said. "We had terrible field position (the 13-yard line). Yet, we put together maybe our best drive of the year. It was a very significant drive."
Maryland drove 87 yards, with Gelbaugh completing all five of his passes for 51 yards, including a 12-yard screen to Badanjek, who took the ball to the eight.
Two plays later, Badanjek scored from two yards to give Maryland (6-2, 4-0 in the Atlantic Coast Conference) a 21-10 lead less than a minute into the fourth quarter.
After another four-down failure by the Tar Heels (4-4, 2-2), Badanjek ran for his third two-yard touchdown of the game and scored his seventh touchdown against North Carolina in two years to make it 28-10.
But the score was set up by a play that typified Maryland's fortune this day. Faced with fourth and three from the Tar Heels' 35, Ross wanted to call time out.
In fact, almost every player on the Terrapins' sideline had his hands up frantically signaling time out. Maryland already had failed to gain more than a yard on any of the previous five rushing plays (including one on fourth down).
But Gelbaugh was looking to his right, calling an audible, and never saw the hullabaloo to his left.
No time to talk. With one second remaining on the 25-second clock, Gelbaugh took the snap and completed a pass over the middle to Eric Holder for a 31-yard gain to the four. Badanjek did the rest in two plays for the final score with 3:43 left.
It was Badanjek's 46th touchdown in 44 games, and the Carolina defenders knew who would carry the ball. Even so, Gelbaugh said, "You'd be foolish not to go to him down there. He's been doing this for four years."
The entire team seemed to get a lift out of Badanjek's 24-carry performance. The senior fullback has been hurt much of the season and yesterday injured both shoulders, to go along with a sore ankle, injured eye (scratched cornea) and other assorted bruises.
"He's right back where he should be, going into the final three games," defensive guard Scott Tye said.
Badanjek said he didn't want to call it his best game of the season, though Ross did. "But it did feel good," Badanjek said. "The number of carries felt really good. But Alvin Blount (19 carries, 78 yards) had some really huge holes up there."
The rushing yardage became important because North Carolina's defense double-covered the wide receivers 90 percent of the game.
Gelbaugh (16 for 25 for 197 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions) said he made a couple of bad reads and a couple of poor throws, and that he has learned to play through the booing from the home fans.
"I think I'm getting used to the crowd," Gelbaugh said. "I don't listen to them very much."
Gelbaugh also was quick to point out that Maryland's defense, which held Carolina to 199 yards offense, "has made it easy for us all year long."
The Terrapins sacked two quarterbacks a total of six times and came up with three interceptions, including one with 20 seconds left by freshman Chad Sydnor that might have prevented a score.
After starter Kevin Anthony's first-half interception, Crum brought in Hall, a freshman from James Madison High School and Vienna, who threw one touchdown pass and set up a 43-yard field goal by Kenny Miller in the third quarter to cut into the 14-0 lead Maryland had held since late in the second.
Crum also kept his best runner, freshman Derrick Fenner of Oxon Hill, on the bench for much of the second half in favor of William Humes, who hadn't played in five weeks because of an injury. Crum said he thought the offense needed a change.
A change in play-calling might have helped the Tar Heels more. First, there was the fake punt on fourth and 25 that netted nine yards with 11 minutes to play and the Tar Heels down by only 21-10. "I thought if we were gonna get back in the game we had to make something happen," Crum explained.
When asked if he was taking a long shot, Crum said, "The whole situation (trailing Maryland by 11) was a long shot."
An even longer shot was Crum's call to run Fenner up the middle on second and 10 with 3:26 left for a loss of four yards, with his team trailing, 28-10.
By the end, Crum was left calling timeouts on defense, with 10 seconds and then three seconds left, that he didn't use when his team had the ball before Hall's interception.
"We had 'em, why not use 'em?" Crum said.
It probably didn't matter much because, as Crum reiterated afterward, "Maryland is just a better football team than we are."
Ross said he feels his team is playing "reasonably well." But whether that is good enough to beat Miami next week is questionable. After four straight victories over mediocre ACC teams, the Terrapins play a tough team again next week in Baltimore's Memorial Stadium.