Maryland Coach Ron Vanderlinden could not believe what he was seeing through teary eyes on a statistics sheet he held in a hand still shaking with emotion. The Terrapins had run an astonishing 68 times, tailback LaMont Jordan had 306 yards in one of the great performances ever by a running back--and they still couldn't keep Virginia from a 34-30 Atlantic Coast Conference victory yesterday that denied them a bowl bid.
"Devastating," Vanderlinden said. "The worst loss I've ever been associated with because there was so much on the line."
On the line for the Terrapins was an exclamation point to a fine overall effort in Vanderlinden's third year, one in which their five victories matched the number they had in his first two seasons combined. More had been possible, weeks ago against Duke and earlier yesterday before a crowd of 32,334 that left Byrd Stadium in various states of disbelief after Maryland's fourth straight defeat.
But when Virginia quarterback Dan Ellis lofted a 20-yard pass toward the left corner of the end zone and wide receiver Billy McMullen outmaneuvered cornerback Tony Okanlawon for it while somehow keeping a foot inbounds, those goals were dashed. By clinching their 13th straight seven-victory season, the Cavaliers (7-4, 5-3) moved a bit higher in the bowl order, most likely the Dec. 30 Micronpc.com.
Numerous plays will linger long for the Terrapins, the most vivid being quarterback Randall Jones's failure to stay in bounds on a keeper on third down with 1 minute 22 seconds left, Virginia out of timeouts and Maryland holding a 30-27 lead.
"I tried to get down," Jones said. "I got hit out of bounds."
"I was yelling: 'Stay in bounds. Stay in bounds,' " Jordan said. "Hey, things happen. . . . Honestly, he should have fallen."
Vanderlinden called it "a huge snafu."
Jones's error probably cost Maryland 35 to 40 seconds. And when Virginia took over after a punt with 72 seconds left, Ellis drove them 76 yards in nine plays.
Maryland (5-6, 2-6) still had 26 seconds left after returning a short kickoff to its 36. And who, including Virginia, could doubt that the Terrapins had one more little miracle left. There had been so many.
They were 17 points behind after the first quarter. They switched quarterbacks. Out went Latrez Harrison, who lost his poise after trying to overcome playing just 10 significant plays before yesterday. In came Jones, a starter last year but a defensive back all this season until being called on after Harrison and backup Trey Evans had been hurt last week against Florida State.
Against a defense absolutely certain that he would carry the offense, Jordan carried the ball 37 times and was sensational. His 306 yards was a school record, as was his 1,632 yards for the season. With 3,227 yards, he became just the third runner in league history to go over 3,000 as a junior.
For the day, Jordan outgained Thomas Jones, who entered with a nation-leading average of 170.7 yards per game by 306-91.
And the Terrapins surged back. They matched Virginia's 17 points in the first period with 17 of their own in the second. But Brian Kopka missed a 26-yard field goal attempt on the last play before halftime.
Maryland went ahead early in the third quarter, on a 90-yard run by Jordan. But Virginia slipped ahead 27-24 on a 43-yard David Greene field goal and an 11-yard Ellis pass to tight end Casey Crawford. Then Maryland set the stage for the final drama by forcing two turnovers and taking a 30-27 lead on the second of Kopka's short field goals.
During those final frustrating 26 seconds after the Ellis-to-McMullen touchdown pass, Maryland used two different quarterbacks. Evans came in and completed a nine-yard pass to Jermaine Arrington. Then Harrison, who has a much stronger arm, heaved the ball twice toward the end zone in the final 12 seconds--and shortly after the last one hit the ground, Jordan was on his back in exhaustion and dejection.
"So many things we did wrong," he said. "It just hurts. It hurts a lot."
Virginia also could have folded a couple of times--and eventually beat Maryland the way most other teams had. The Terrapins mostly had played the run well all season but couldn't defend the pass at critical times.
Okanlawon dropped to his knees after the taller McMullen made that winning catch, then held his head in his hands and cried after walking to the bench as Greene was kicking the extra point. He declined interview requests.
Maryland had opened the season with a 6-0 victory over Temple when a defensive back, Bryn Boggs, batted the winning pass away in the end zone on the final play.
Virginia Coach George Welsh had the most appropriate take on his team, saying: "We can't stop anybody most of the time and our opponents can't stop us most of the time. It's a different viewpoint of college football right now."
Here Comes Mr. Jordan
When LaMont Jordan rushed for 306 yards yesterday against Virginia, he set a school record and came close to an ACC mark. The top single-game rushers in ACC history:
Yards Player School Year
329 John Leach Wake Forest vs. Maryland 1993
328 Derrick Fenner UNC vs. Virginia 1986
306 LaMont Jordan Maryland vs. Virginia 1999
291 Kennard Martin UNC vs. Duke 1988
286 Amos Lawrence UNC vs. Virginia 1977