Scott Zolak, who never had started a game in his first four years at Maryland, completed a school-record 28 passes yesterday against Virginia Tech. The record-breaking 28th completion, which also happened to win the game, landed in the hands of Gene Thomas, whose first catch in his first game went for a 51-yard touchdown. Zolak and Thomas had to share all this glory with an H-back named Frank Wycheck, whose 14 catches -- of course it was his first game too -- shattered the school record for receptions in one game.

Maybe life won't be all bad for the Maryland football team after all, this season. What's this, more good news from College Park?

All three players had been in search of some personal good news. Zolak sat for four years, including one as a redshirt, behind Dan Henning and Neil O'Donnell. Here at the new Quarterback U. (Mike Tice, Boomer Esiason, Frank Reich, Stan Gelbaugh, O'Donnell), where virtually everybody graduates to the NFL, Zolak will be subjected to more than his fair share of expectations. That may not be new, since he went to Joe Montana's high school, Ringgold in Pennsylvania.

"I thought I was good enough and had done enough to start when I was a redshirt sophomore, but it just didn't work out," he said.

He might have been right. Yesterday, with 303 yards, he showed he has both a strong and accurate arm, enough to stand in the pocket until the very last millisecond, enough smarts to run a new offense in his first start, and the poise to shake off earlier mishaps. Zolak can play.

"He's got a lot of tools," Coach Joe Krivak said. "The thing he's got to do is play. You can practice your butt off but that doesn't mean anything."

What did matter was that on Maryland's first drive, Zolak was being tackled but still had the presence of mind to flip the ball to Bret Boehly for four yards on third and three to keep alive a drive that ended in Maryland's first touchdown, Zolak's 16-yard touchdown pass to Wycheck.

What mattered was after four turnovers in four drives (muffed punt return, fumble, fumble, interception) Zolak found Thomas for 51 yards with a minute to play. No, Maryland couldn't have won without the defense, but that unit -- stocked with veterans -- was only doing what it was supposed to do. Nobody knew what to expect from the offense.

Wycheck didn't even know if he would be eligible to play just four days earlier. It is a confusing story, but the gist of it is that Wycheck received conflicting information on what grade he needed in a summer school class to remain eligible.

"When I received my grades, I was relieved," he said. But Tuesday, the academic support body told Wycheck he was .002 short and that he would be ineligible by Maryland (not NCAA) standards.

Wycheck said he had to write a two-page letter on "what I did wrong in school and what I'd do to improve myself. I told my girlfriend what was going on, but I didn't want to worry my parents, so I decided to not tell them until after the appeal. I went before the board at noon on Wednesday and got the news {he had won the appeal} at 2:30. It's been a roller coaster week. I guess I better thank the appeal board for letting me play this game."

What gratitude. John Tice's record of 11 receptions (against Clemson in one of the great Maryland games of all-time) had stood up since 1982. Wycheck caught 10 balls in the first half. After one game, he is already the greatest H-back in Maryland history; of course, he is the first H-back in Maryland history, what with Krivak's new one-back offense.

Wycheck is 6 feet 2, 215 pounds, with great spin moves and better than average speed for someone his size. Still, you don't expect him to catch 14 passes.

"Here's a 19-year-old kid who thought he was home free {concerning his grades} and he isn't," Krivak said. "You don't know what kind of pressure he's going to feel."

As it turned out, Virginia Tech's defense was the one under a lot of pressure, because Zolak kept finding Wycheck open in the flat. Some of us, including Krivak, kept wondering why Zolak didn't audible and throw more to the wide receivers, since Virginia Tech's defense insisted on using tight man-to-man coverage.

"There was so much open underneath, and it was working, I kept going to that," Zolak said, logically.

Krivak kept reminding Zolak to look to the wideouts, especially since Virginia Tech free safety Damien Russell kept cheating over to help cover Wycheck in the second half.

That brings us to Thomas, who hasn't had the easiest time in the world the last few weeks. Thomas, the coaches say, is borderline phenom. He plans to play baseball for the Terrapins next spring. The San Francisco Giants drafted him in the 20th round last year when he was at Montgomery College-Rockville. But Thomas wanted to stay in school and stay close to his mother, who is battling multiple sclerosis. Despite failing eyesight, she had hoped to attend today's game and have her husband describe the action to her.

"But once she knew it was on television, I knew she wouldn't come," Thomas said.

He also was trying to make the adjustment to College Park and major college football. He and Zolak misread each other several times during the game, which is why he didn't catch a pass until the very end.

Zolak, Thomas and Wycheck won't be afforded the luxury of time to develop, even though they are still learning the offense. The next four opponents -- West Virginia, Clemson, North Carolina State and Michigan -- were 35-12-1 last year and all went to bowl games.

One victory over Virginia Tech shouldn't make the Terps too giddy. But one thing for sure is that Krivak knows how to design a high-powered offense. What he may have found yesterday is that he has the players, inexperienced though they are, to run one effectively.