CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- It was, perhaps, their biggest game in the past four years.
And in it, the University of Maryland was routed by North Carolina, 34-10, yesterday before 46,000 at Kenan Stadium, practically eliminating any chances the Terps had to play in a bowl game.
In addition, the loss puts Maryland (5-4 overall, 3-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) in the unenviable position of having to win Nov. 10 at Penn State (against a team it hasn't beaten since 1961) or at No. 1-ranked Virginia on Nov. 17 to avoid a fourth straight losing season.
"By far, this was the most disappointing loss in my career here, said Maryland senior nose guard Rick Fleece. "With this loss, it will be tough for us to get ourselves up. I'm not saying we can't win those games, but winning this one would have made it a hell of a lot easier. A win would have pumped us up to another level."
Instead of possible invitations from the Copper or Aloha bowls, the Terps practically said aloha, bowls.
"It's going to be tough," said Maryland junior cornerback Scott Rosen. "This was the game, the biggest for Maryland in years. Then, we just go out there and play terribly. We're going to have to play our butts off for anything down the road. Everybody made mistakes. It was a total team disaster."
It was ugly. Maryland missed tackles, secondary coverage broke down and the Terps gave up 520 yards in total offense. The Terps had only 221 yards of total offense and never mounted a serious drive in the second half, as North Carolina (5-2-1, 2-1-1) scored 22 third-quarter points.
Just how bad were the Terps? One time, they got caught with 12 men on the field. Another time, in the fourth quarter, they had a fourth-and-40 on their 19. Maryland was so bad that head coach Joe Krivak, who never has criticized a player publicly, came close. Terps quarterback Scott Zolak completed only 15 of 38 passes for 205 yards and was picked off three times, once for a 24-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
"We missed passes all day," Krivak said. "We were open all th time. The passes were thrown over the heads of receivers and behind them. I don't think it was the Carolina defense, so much as we missed an awful lot of opportunities. Defensively, we were hurt by the shovel pass, but that was about the only thing that stood out, other than the missed tackles. We took a pretty good licking because we made a lot of mistakes."
Zolak agreed with his coach, saying he tried to come back to th open receivers on the next series. But yesterday's loss also had Krivak, in the final year of a four-year contract, doing some explaining.
Why, in such a big game, was his team so flat?
Krivak: "I don't know. This has been a year of surprises."
Does this hurt your chances of a contract extension?
Krivak: "I don't want to speculate on that right now. I don't want to speculate on our chances for a winning season. All I know is that we have a week off, and then we've got to crank it up for two more games."
Despite how badly the Terps played, they still managed a 10-9 lead at the half. North Carolina dominated the Terps in the last 25 minutes of the half, but could manage only field goals of 25, 27 and 36 yards by Clint Gwaltney.
The first two quarters would have been a great time for Maryland to set the tempo, but the Terps' first three possessions lasted a total of 12 plays.
"We just didn't seem to have it," said Rosen.
Still, Zolak threw a 26-yard touchdown pass to halfback Tro Jackson down the right sideline with 3 minutes, 5 seconds left in the first quarter, then directed the Terps to a 32-yard field goal by Dan DeArmas with 10 seconds left in the half.
"I thought we would come out and play better in the secon half," Zolak said. "But it didn't work that way."
Instead, the Terps helped make North Carolina quarterback Todd Burnette, who had completed only 67 of 139 passes entering the game, look like Joe Montana. Burnette finished 23-for-35 for 312 yards, including 11 of 15 for 172 yards in the second half. North Carolina came into the game averaging 125.1 yards passing.
On the second play of the third quarter, Burnette passed 57 yards to wide-out Corey Holliday down the middle, leading to a 5-yard touchdown pass from Burnette to flanker Randall Felton three plays later, giving the Tar Heels a 17-10 lead.
North Carolina cornerback Thomas Smith stepped in front of wide receiver Barry Johnson and took an interception 24 yards for a touchdown that put North Carolina ahead, 24-10, with 8:01 left in the quarter.
The rout continued when Tar Heels running back Natrone Means (111 yards on 25 carries) finished a 14-play, 87-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run around right end for a 31-10 advantage with 36 seconds left in the quarter.