DURHAM,N.C. — DURHAM, N.C. -- As University of Maryland head football coach Joe Krivak walked off the field, he was heard muttering words he never would say for the record.
"We're 5-3 with three games remaining, so we're still in position, Krivak was overheard saying.
"A shot at what?" Krivak was asked minutes later.
"Oh, if we keep winning, and with our schedule, everything wil take care of itself," said Krivak.
It seems tough for Krivak to hide his optimism about the Terps. And who can blame him? Yesterday, Maryland found another way to win, as a bad snap by Duke in the final five minutes led to a 20-yard field goal from Dan DeArmas with 50 seconds remaining for a 23-20 victory over the Blue Devils at Wallace Wade Stadium.
Oh, there were other factors in the Terps' victory. For the firs time this season, Maryland (5-3 overall, 3-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) didn't commit a turnover. Besides the game-winner, DeArmas kicked field goals of 25 and 28 yards. And the defense played its part, as senior outside linebacker Jack Bradford played the best game of what Krivak called a "tremendous" season, and tackle Larry Webster also had his best game.
But it was the fumble that left the crowd of 23,200 disappointed Here's what happened:
The score was tied at 20 with 4 minutes, 37 seconds left in th game and Duke (3-4, 0-3) on its 37-yard line. Center Stuart Albright snapped the ball through the legs of quarterback Billy Ray, who was crouched directly behind him.
Duke lost 10 yards on the play. Bradford, from Wilde Lake High then sacked Ray for an 11-yard loss, creating fourth-and-30.
Maryland took possession at the Duke 42 with 3:23 left. On th next three plays, the Terps gained 23 yards, the big play a 17-yard pass on a throwback from quarterback Scott Zolak to ace back Troy Jackson. An illegal-participation penalty (12 players on the field) moved the ball to the 9, where Krivak was content to run down the clock before sending in DeArmas on fourth-and-goal at the 3.
"The guys worked real hard to get down there, and it's my job to kick it through once they do," said DeArmas, who earlier this season kicked a 25-yard field goal with 11 seconds left to lift Maryland over North Carolina State, 13-12.
Speaking of N.C. State, wasn't that the game in which halfbac Aubrey Shaw fumbled without being hit, giving Maryland possession at midfield late in the game to set up DeArmas' winning field goal?
And what about the last-minute touchdown passes from Zolak t wide-out Gene Thomas for wins against Virginia Tech and West Virginia?
"We just want to play hard all the time and let everything els take care of itself," Webster said. "I think that's the biggest reason we win. We don't quit."
But even Krivak agreed it was a strange play. Usually, a fumble exchange goes straight up, or the ball just drops to the ground. This one shot through Ray's legs.
"It's just one of those things that's hard to explain," said Krivak "Nothing has been easy for us, but we just keep winning. This is the fourth game where we've won by four points or less and won in the last minute and a half."
It seemed from the start like a game that was going to go down to the last minute. Neither team could stop the other's passing offense. Zolak finished 22-for-33 for 247 yards and one touchdown. Duke's quarterbacks, Ray and Dave Brown, combined to go 22-for-30 for 266 yards and two touchdowns.
It was that close. Duke had 73 yards rushing, Maryland 85. Duk had 339 yards of total offense, Maryland 332. Maryland had the ball for only 10 seconds more (30:05 to 29:55), and both teams had 65 total offensive plays.
But Maryland had Bradford, who finished with nine tackles and three sacks for losses of 8, 11 and 2 yards. Webster had 10 tackles with two sacks.
"Jack is just having a tremendous season for us," said Krivak. "He was all over the field and put the pressure on when we needed it. Larry just turned the notch up in the fourth quarter."
The Terps could have used a little intensity adjustment in the first half. Krivak said he noticed it before the game when the players came out for warm-ups.
"I was scared," said Krivak. "When you've been around for a littlwhile, you can sense these kind of things. Plus, Duke was coming off that big win against Western Carolina [48-16] last week."
Maryland, though, still managed a 14-6 lead at the half. Zolak threw a 29-yard touchdown pass to split end Barry Johnson down the right sideline with 12:46 left in the half for a 7-3 lead.
The play was set up by play-action from Zolak to the left, an Johnson was wide-open near the 3.
"I kind of had to double-take because he was so wide-open," said Zolak. "I just made sure I set my feet to get the ball there."
Maryland had a 20-13 lead at the end of the third quarter. Th Terps could manage only two field goals by DeArmas in the quarter, and Ray connected on a 56-yard touchdown to split end Walter Jones, who beat Maryland cornerback Scott Rosen on a busted play.
Duke tied the game at 20 with a seven-play, 65-yard drive tha ended with a 27-yard touchdown pass from Ray to Jones with 12:06 left in the game.
And after Maryland's ensuing drive stalled at the Duke 48, i looked bad for the Terps, as Duke took possession with 7:06 left at the Blue Devils 11.
But Maryland players said they were just getting fired up.
"I kept telling everyone in the huddle that this was our season, said Maryland cornerback Michael Hollis.
Bradford answered the call.
"Before the game, I knew I was going to have a good one," sai Bradford. "I felt like I was going to get three sacks. One thing for sure -- I spent myself out there this afternoon. I was blessed."
And for the fourth time this season, Maryland seemed to be, too.