MORGANTOWN, W.VA., SEPT. 8 -- Its penchant for squandering opportunity may yet come back to haunt Maryland, but as long as Gene Thomas is around, there is hope. For a second straight week, the junior wide receiver from Rockville scored on a late touchdown pass from Scott Zolak -- this one covering 59 yards with 2:27 remaining -- to lead the Terrapins to a 14-10 upset of 25th-ranked West Virginia today at Mountaineer Stadium.
"I just love chasing after him on plays like that," said fellow receiver Barry Johnson. "We're going to have to start calling him 'Prime Time' or something."
The game-winner -- a post pattern on third and 10 hit through a seam in the West Virginia defense -- was almost identical to the 51-yard play with 1:01 remaining that clinched last Saturday's 20-13 season-opening victory over Virginia Tech.
"I didn't think it could happen again this week. I wasn't really thinking about it, but I guess I hoped it would be there," said Thomas, averaging 35 yards with two touchdowns on four receptions at Maryland. "When I scored and everyone was jumping on me, I thought, 'Wow, a repeat.' "
The instant replay gave Maryland a 2-0 record, the first time since 1986 the Terrapins have won the first two games of the season.
Today's score was perhaps even more dramatic because it came just when it appeared Maryland had turned what should have been an easy victory into a disheartening loss.
That was also another likeness to last week: the Terrapins' offense moving up the field with regularity but coming away scoreless because of mistakes. But while Virginia Tech never really threatened the Maryland defense, the Mountaineers -- rallying behind second-string quarterback Darren Studstill -- capitalized on the visitors' mistakes, scoring 10 fourth-quarter points.
With most of the 64,950 cheering wildly, it appeared that West Virginia had seized the momentum and left Maryland behind for good after Studstill (who came on at the beginning of the second half after starter Greg Jones suffered a concussion) hit running back Jon Jones with a two-yard scoring pass with 4:21 left to give the Mountaineers a 10-7 edge.
Maryland took over on its 20 following a touchback, and Zolak's first two passes were dropped by Troy Jackson and Frank Wycheck. Things worsened on third down when Zolak was sacked for the sixth time in the game.
However, West Virginia was called for holding, giving Maryland 10 yards, a vital first down and, most important, new life. The Terrapins got another crucial first down when Zolak (23 for 42 for 313 yards) hit Johnson for eight yards on a third and seven.
After a first down attempt to Jackson fell incomplete, Zolak tried to hit Thomas on a post over the middle. Just like the play that preceeded last week's winning touchdown, this pass also was nearly intercepted, but Thomas managed to get a hand on the ball, which fluttered to the turf.
The next play called for Zolak to look for Johnson streaking down the left sideline, or for tight end Bret Boehly up the middle.
"I really knew the first option wasn't going to be there and I looked for Bret," Zolak said. "But then I saw Gene waving his hands. We were hanging on by our tails at the end and were at our last grasps, but we just told each other to come on, that we had played well enough to win."
Maryland threatened to rout early on. On the game's first possession, the Terps moved from their own 19 to the West Virginia 49. On a first-down play from there, Jackson scampered for a 27-yard gain but fumbled. On their third possession, the Terrapins moved to the Mountaineers 18 but came away empty when Dan DeArmas missed a 36-yard field goal.
The next three times it got the ball, Maryland moved into West Virginia territory but didn't score. Not until the final two minutes of the opening half did the Terps put something together, Johnson making a 42-yard catch down to the 9, then grabbing an eight-yard pass from Zolak two plays later for a 7-0 lead.
With Jones, the Mountaineers quarterback, suffering his concussion just before intermission, there seemed to be no doubt that the Maryland defense would make the slim advantage stand up. The unit held West Virginia to three first downs in the third period. Until Brad Carroll kicked a 30-yard field goal with 13:16 to play in the fourth quarter, the Terps hadn't given up a gain longer than 14 yards in the half.
"West Virginia is a strong team but we can be a physical team too and we're strong-willed," said linebacker Jack Bradford, who proved that point once by making a tackle without his helmet. "The fans were making comments and the players were talking but we stayed focused. We didn't let West Virginia intimidate us because we won't be intimidated."
But Maryland's ineffectiveness on offense gave the Mountaineers chances. Zolak was sacked twice on the possession following Carroll's field goal and after a DeArmas punt, West Virginia moved 80 yards on 13 plays to take the lead.
The Terps helped keep the lengthy drive alive by getting flagged for a personal foul on a late hit against former Terrapins running back Mike Beasley (60 yards on 18 carries), who picked up another 25 yards on a quick screen three plays before Jon Jones's touchdown.
"I don't think you can be disappointed in our offense," said Maryland Coach Joe Krivak. "The one thing we've tried to be is upbeat. We've got a young offense and it's going to make mistakes. The thing we have to do is pat the players on the back and encourage them and hope that things get better."