SHREVEPORT, La. -- It was, in a sense, the University of Maryland's football season played out in a game.
The Terps played well early in the season and in the game, struggled in the middle and rallied at the end to gain some respectability.
Louisiana Tech's Chris Boniol kicked a 28-yard field goal as time expired, as the Bulldogs tied Maryland, 34-34, before a record crowd of 48,325 Saturday night in the Poulan-Weed Eater Independence Bowl.
It was a game in which both offenses (Maryland 403 total yards; Louisiana, Tech 306) played well enough to win. And it was a game in which both defenses played horribly enough to lose.
But in the end, both teams gained what they wanted -- credibility. Louisiana Tech (8-3-1), in Division I-A for only two years, beat an established team. Maryland (6-5-1) had its first winning season and played in its first bowl game since 1985.
"No, with four seconds left and our players having played so well, I didn't want to gamble and have the players walk off the field with their heads down," Louisiana Tech coach Joe Peace said. "We didn't come here to be a loser. The players were disappointed, but they will understand the magnitude of this game in years to come."
"We made a lot of people eat crow this year," said Maryland running back Troy Jackson, who rushed for 50 yards on 17 carries and had three touchdowns. "People said we would be lucky to win three games. A tie is better than a loss. Now I hear all this talk about tying is like kissing your sister. Well, I love my sister, and I liked what we accomplished this season."
Maryland, which won four games during the regular season in the last three minutes, seemed to have pulled out another one when quarterback Scott Zolak completed a 15-yard pass to Barry Johnson on a quick post pattern on fourth-and-12 with 52 seconds left in the game to give Maryland a 34-31 lead.
It was the same play that the Terps used in the last two minutes to pull out victories over Virginia Tech and West Virginia to open the season.
But Bulldogs linebacker Lorenza Baker returned the ensuing kickoff, a squibber, 41 yards to the Maryland 41. Six plays later, Boniol kicked the tying field goal after a Louisiana Tech timeout.
"I don't know if I'd have gone for the tie. It's a bowl game," Maryland coach Joe Krivak said. "I think you play to win. But I can't question his decision. I think it's obvious that it is the right decision for his football team.
"The important thing is that we were down and could have rolled over," said Krivak, whose team trailed 31-20 with 13 minutes, 52 seconds left in the game after being tied at 14 at the half. "We made some mistakes, and that was probably the difference in winning and tying."
The mistakes: Zolak had three passes intercepted. Maryland punt and kickoff coverage, horrendous most of the year, allowed kickoff returns of 63, 41 and 27 yards, the 63- and 41-yarders leading to 10 points. Wide receiver Dan Prunzik dropped a 31-yard pass at the Louisiana Tech 5 down the left sideline as time expired to end the half. Junior place-kicker Dan DeArmas, who had not missed an extra-point attempt in his college career (47 straight), missed one with 7:44 left in the third period to put Maryland behind, 21-20.
jTC "I think I was a little too close on my approach," said DeArmas, who also missed a 43-yard field goal. "I feel bad and I apologized to the team. Actually, I never thought I would miss an extra point."
Maryland also was the victim of two bad officiating calls. Bulldogs linebacker Myron Baker intercepted a Zolak pass, one thrown poorly across the field and into a crowd, with 2:24 left in the half and Maryland ahead, 14-7. The ball, though, appeared to bounce off the turf first.
In the same series, on third-and-goal from the 3, Bulldogs running back Jason Davis started to the left on a counter play, then swept around right end. He was hit by Terps defensive back Mike Thomas, who seemed to knock Davis out of bounds at the 2. But Davis stretched the ball over the goal line and was awarded the touchdown that tied the score at 14 at the half.
Maryland players and coaches argued that Baker had trapped the ball and Davis was out of bounds.
Louisiana Tech players agreed.
Said Baker: "My hand was under it, but I still felt like the ball hit the ground a little bit. But if the ref says I caught it, I caught it."
Davis said: "This isn't the NFL and there aren't any replays. But yes, I was out of bounds."
Maryland, though, also got some breaks from the poor officiating. One was a questionable pass interference on a faked field goal, which eventually led to a first-period touchdown and a roughing-the-kicker call when Louisiana Tech's Lorenza Baker clearly was knocked into DeArmas, who was punting, by Terps upback Doug Stump.
"The coaches told us not to say anything, but I don't care," Maryland linebacker Scott Whittier said. "They were awful.