Maryland had more chances to win a football game today than any team should rightfully ask for. The Terrapins defense upheld its responsibility by forcing four turnovers, blocking a field goal and forcing two missed extra-point kicks.
But the offense betrayed Maryland again, right through the final 10 seconds. And after nearly four hours of a competitive game, No. 8 Miami had overcome a nine-point deficit to win, 29-22, before 62,350 in Memorial Stadium.
For Miami, still in the hunt for the national championship, it was the eighth straight victory and avenged last year's humiliating 42-40 loss to Maryland after the Hurricanes had led by 31-0 at halftime. Meanwhile, Maryland, which began the season with similar aspirations, lost for the third time to a nationally ranked team and dropped out of contention for a major bowl game.
Maryland Coach Bobby Ross was angry when asked afterward about the perception that the Terrapins cannot win big games.
"I don't want to hear that," Ross yelled. "I don't want to hear it. I want to remind people of some big games this team has won, and we have won some big games in the past. Our kids fought their hearts out tonight against not just a good football team, but a great team."
Indeed, Maryland did fight -- well enough, in fact, to beat many ranked teams, but not Miami, even in front of Maryland's largest home crowd ever. What may bother the Terrapins more than losing is how they lost, how they fell apart at crucial times in the second half.
Miami (8-1) scored the game-winning points on Greg Cox's 20-yard field goal with eight minutes left, just a couple of minutes after Maryland had blocked his 19-yard attempt. The Hurricanes went on to add a one-yard touchdown run by Melvin Bratton for the final margin.
An incomplete pass on fourth down, 39 yards from the goal line with seven seconds left, ended the day for Maryland, which dropped to 6-3.
But the Terrapins really lost the game in the first part of the third quarter after they drove 80 yards on nine running plays, culminating in Rick Badanjek's two-yard touchdown run, then forced Miami into a safety to take a 22-13 lead, five minutes into the second half.
A safety may count for only two points, but it has the potential to be worth five or nine points because of the automatic possession and the usually good field position after the punt.
Instead of having decent field position and a good shot at a 29-13 lead (or at least 25-13 after a field goal), Maryland blew its big chance and probably the game when special-teams player O'Brien Alston committed a personal foul that cost the Terrapins 15 yards.
It took Maryland from near midfield, at the 46, back to the 31 to start with a first and 25. Ross was in a rage over the penalty.
"It was a pretty damn crucial penalty," he said. "My understanding, from our bench, is that it was a legitimate call. It was a good call. It should never have happened. From that point on, we lost momentum."
And how. The Terrapins had discovered they could run the ball effectively because Miami's defensive ends were lining up so wide. But first and 25 changed all that.
Maryland quarterback Stan Gelbaugh, who was harassed all day by a hard Miami pass rush, threw incomplete on second and third downs, leaving Maryland with its nine-point lead. But not even that lasted long.
Darryl Wright punted 43 yards, and Brett Perriman returned it 74 yards for a touchdown without so much as a Terrapins hand touching him. "We lost containment on the left side," Ross said, "but I'm sure there were other breakdowns, too."
The Perriman touchdown, with seven minutes left in the third quarter, cut the lead to 22-20. Momentum, Miami.
Maryland cornerback Donald Brown remembered running off the field after the safety, thinking, "We've got control of the game. We just drove 80 yards to score without completing a pass, and we've stopped them when necessary."
But the punt return seemed to zap Maryland's advantage, even though the scoreboard still had the Terrapins ahead.
All the Terrapins did offensively thereafter was punt. In seven possessions after Perriman's touchdown, the Terrapins punted five times and failed the other two times on fourth down. After it became 22-20, Maryland totaled 54 yards offense.
Maryland didn't come up with a first down passing until only a minute remained in the game. Gelbaugh completed just seven of his last 22 passes, and it certainly wasn't all his fault.
"They got the best pressure that anyone has put on us all year," said Gelbaugh, who finished with 16 completions in 38 attempts for 178 yards. "Miami just let fly (four sacks, numerous rushed passes). You've got to give them credit."
Miami also deserves credit for adjusting its defense after Badanjek (79 yards rushing) and Alvin Blount (60 yards in 12 carries) had shredded the Hurricanes for 80 yards in nine plays on the first drive of the second half.
It would have been difficult to sustain run-only drives anyway, because Badanjek had a sore toe, suffered in the long drive. But Maryland, with all its offensive weapons, should be able to pass on anybody.
The pass protection, however, was inadequate. After one series, in which Gelbaugh was chased to the sideline twice, Ross and offensive line coach Ralph Fridgen sat the linemen down and conducted a screaming session.
"They were trying to motivate us, I guess," tackle J.D. Maarleveld said. "Maybe it looked to them as if we weren't playing hard. I thought we were."
Senior guard Len Lynch, who readily admitted he was beaten twice for sacks, said, "We've got to do a better job of protecting our passer, for sure, but they got us in some second-and-long, third-and-long situations and just sprinted. Those ends (John McVeigh and Dan Stubbs) weigh less than 240, and they're fast."
The defense continued to keep Maryland within reach. It even helped Cox miss the extra point after Bratton's touchdown run with only three minutes left.
Maryland perhaps should have been in control much earlier in light of the fact that Miami committed four turnovers (three fumbles and an interception) in the first 20 minutes of the game.
But the Terrapins could manage only one touchdown (a four-yard pass from Gelbaugh to Ferrell Edmunds). Two other times, Dan Plocki had to kick field goals, and the result was a 13-0 lead.
"With the field position we had, it should have been 21-0, at least," Maarleveld said, shaking his head.
Ross was still shaking his, 20 minutes after the game. "We just had so many chances," Ross said. "Right to the last 10 seconds, we had a chance to win it."