DURHAM, N.C., OCT. 20 -- It is still too early to say what fate ultimately will befall the Maryland Terrapins this season, but 1990 already might be regarded as a turning point for their football program.

There was evidence of that today at Wallace Wade Stadium, when a 20-yard Dan DeArmas field goal with 50 seconds remaining provided the winning points in Maryland's 23-20 triumph over Duke. The 38-yard, seven-play drive that led to the kick was set up by a magnificent defensive stand -- plus a little bit of the luck that had gone against the Terrapins in recent seasons.

"We've worked too hard and come too far -- for the seniors it's been some hard times," said senior linebacker Scott Whittier. "We've tried to put those things behind us but we remember. We've come too far to lose a game like this one. This win came from all we've been through."

Maryland (5-3, 3-2 in the Atlantic Coast Conference) made a number of big plays, including a 29-yard touchdown pass from Scott Zolak to Barry Johnson and a 19-yard end-around scoring run by flanker Gene Thomas.

Defensively the Terrapins got six sacks -- three by linebacker Jack Bradford, who had six other tackles and recovered a fumble. Whittier contributed 14 stops.

Even so, when the Blue Devils (3-4, 0-3) -- who had scored touchdowns on two of the their previous three possessions to tie the game at 20 -- took over with 7:06 remaining, Maryland appeared to be in trouble.

Duke quarterback Billy Ray riddled the Maryland secondary throughout the second half. And when Maryland made the adjustment at the start of the crucial series, the Blue Devils ran four straight times to gain 25 yards to the Duke 36-yard line.

On first down, Ray was pressured by defensive tackle Larry Webster and scrambled for a one-yard gain. On the next play, the snap from center Stewart Albright somehow trickled through Ray's legs and rolled away 10 yards before the quarterback fell on it.

"I don't have an answer for that one," said Maryland Coach Joe Krivak. "There are a lot of things you can look at, a fumble, a turnover. . . . In a close game there are eight to ten different situations that can go for or against you."

But by now the game had taken on an eerie tone, reminiscent of Maryland's 13-12 victory over North Carolina State. That win came on a 25-yard DeArmas field goal with 11 seconds remaining -- after a fumble by Wolfpack running back Aubrey Shaw.

Albright and Ray got their act together on third down but Bradford made his third sack, dropping Ray for an 11-yard loss. Maryland got another break when Randy Gardner's punt traveled only 26 yards, with Mike Hopson downing the ball at the Duke 42.

Maryland took over with 3:23 remaining. A run by Troy Jackson gained four yards; on second down, Zolak rolled out to the left and threw to Jackson, standing alone in the right flat. The 17-yard gain moved the ball to the Duke 21. On first down, Andre Vaughn gained two yards, but the Blue Devils were penalized for having 12 men on the field.

The walkoff put the ball at the 9. Vaughn carried for one yard and Jackson for four. A third-down run failed, setting the stage for DeArmas, who after a Duke timeout kicked his second game-winner. It was Maryland's fourth victory that was decided in the final three minutes.

Although players and coaches on both sides called it ugly, the game was a strategist's delight.

Duke's Randy Jones and Leroy Gallman each had returned kickoffs for touchdowns this season and Maryland had yielded an uncomfortable 28 yards per return, so Krivak decided to have Fred Ensign squib every kickoff.

However, following DeArmas's field goal, Ensign kicked to Gallman -- "the lesser of two evils," said Krivak -- and the coverage team stopped him at the 18.

From there, Maryland put the pressure on Ray, with Webster getting a first-down sack. That pressure had come in part because defensive line coach Dennis Murphy had freed the junior from his normal duties.

"He told me not to worry about responsibilities, just get pressure on the quarterback," Webster said. "I had to double-check; I asked him if I could go anywhere I wanted to and he said yeah, just get the quarterback."

Ray completed two passes for 16 yards but his next two attempts fell incomplete as the clock ran out, finally enabling Krivak to relax after an afternoon that had him tense even before the game started.

The coach said the small crowd of 23,200 contributed to the lethargy he felt in his squad before the opening kickoff. His fears appeared to be realized when Duke took the first possession and moved 65 yards in 13 plays, eating up more than six minutes before Gardner kicked an 18-yard field goal.

Duke was driving again when Bradford recovered a fumble by Chris Brown on the final play of the first period. Maryland then moved 59 yards in just five plays, scoring on Zolak's pass to Johnson.

The Terrapins went 63 yards in nine plays on their next possession, with Thomas -- freed by a nice block from Zolak -- scoring on a reverse. Leading by 14-6 at halftime, Maryland continued to move the ball, driving to the Duke 4- and 11-yard lines on two of its first three possessions.

However all they got were 25- and 28-yard field goals by DeArmas.

Duke began to make some big plays, Ray hitting Walter Jones with 56- and 27-yard touchdown passes to heighten the tension.

"They were getting lucky. I was hitting the quarterback just as he was releasing the ball on both those passes," Bradford said. "If the coverage had been one step tighter they both would have been sacks. I knew that we could hold them though and when it came time to do it, we did it."