It is still too early to say what fate ultimately will be in store for the Maryland Terrapins this season, but 1990 already might be regarded as a turning point for the football program.
There was evidence of that Saturday 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 10 yards backward 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 10 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 down 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 on 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 booted his second game-winner. It was Maryland's fourth victory that was decided in the final three minutes of play.
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."