COLLEGE PARK -- When Scott Zolak came off the field with 1 minute, 27 seconds remaining against North Carolina State yesterday at Byrd Stadium, and Maryland trailing by two points, the senior quarterback wasn't thinking about the time or the score or the ominous possibilities.
"I was kind of dazed," said Zolak, who had just been intercepted for the fourth time in the game.
But when he returned to the field with 1:22 left, after N.C. State tailback Aubrey Shaw's heaven-sent fumble was recovered by Maryland's Mike Thomas at midfield, Zolak carried only positive thoughts. That Maryland still had two timeouts left. That the Terps' previous two victories this year came on last-minute plays. That he was bound to make a big play after a game of mishaps.
"I kept saying, 'We can't let the defense down,' " Zolak recalled. "We can't blow that many chances."
Zolak didn't. After two straight procedure penalties pushed the Terrapins back to their 40, Zolak turned an awful game into another wonderful ending. Two passes -- a 20-yarder to Barry Johnson and a 28-yarder to Gene Thomas -- set up a 25-yard, game-winning field goal by Dan DeArmas with 11 seconds remaining.
"If you stay positive, good things will happen," Zolak, the Norman Vincent Peale of quarterbacks, said after Maryland's still-hard-to-believe 13-12 victory.
Neither his coaches nor his teammates underplayed that aspect of Zolak's performance. Zolak's positive thinking overshadowed some of his worst moments in a four-game career as Maryland's starting quarterback.
His statistics might have been misleading -- 26 of 47 for 259 yards, with four interceptions and no touchdowns -- but Zolak was not. "He's got all the tools, but this games shows what kind of character he has," said freshman H-back Frank Wycheck, who caught 12 passes for 96 yards.
Against the top-rated pass defense in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Zolak looked shaky for most of the afternoon. He overthrew open receivers. He failed to pick up blitzes. He seemed tentative to run in the open field. He even tripped once taking a snap from center.
Asked if he knew how many interceptions he had thrown, Zolak said, "I stopped counting after a while."
But in the last eight minutes, Zolak looked very much like the quarterback who had beaten Virginia Tech and West Virginia with late, long touchdown passes to Thomas.
On the first touchdown drive yesterday, Zolak completed seven of eight passes, including a 20-yarder to Wycheck to the Wolfpack 5-yard line. On the winning drive, Zolak made good on two of three passes.
Zolak got a little help from his receivers, especially from Thomas on the pass that led to DeArmas' winning kick. With N.C. State blitzing and a Wolfpack lineman hanging on his leg, Zolak threw a wobbly sideline pass that Thomas came back to grab.
"That's what I was trying to do," said Zolak. "I tried to underthrow him a little bit. Gene and Barry [Johnson] did a good job all day coming back to the ball."
Said Thomas, tongue-in-cheek, "It was a good pass."
Zolak said that, like some of his teammates, he had trouble mentally getting into yesterday's game. In truth, some of his problems had started in the second half of last week's 18-17 loss to Clemson at Baltimore's Memorial Stadium, when Zolak had thrown two of his three interceptions.
But Zolak also had the memories of those thrilling victories over the Hokies and Mountaineers floating around in his head. "We had confidence we could do that again," he said. "Twice a week in practice, we work on 80-yard, two-minute drills. Even when things weren't going good, everyone on the sideline was encouraging."
Perhaps the most positive person on the sideline was Zolak. This is, after all, a player who waited five years to start. This is, after all, someone who never had experienced a winning season at Maryland and still managed to stay upbeat.
"If you've been here the last three years, you learn how," said Zolak.
Said Maryland coach Joe Krivak: "That kid is so positive. He doesn't worry about all the negatives. You're going to have some interceptions in our offense. If you live by sword, sometimes you're going to die by the sword."