From Liberty High to the national highlight film Orlando's TD catch caps Towson's incredible finish

November 17, 1992|By Glenn P. Graham | Glenn P. Graham,Staff Writer

Anyone associated with Towson State football knows all about sophomore wide receiver Mark Orlando's big-play capabilities. Now the nation knows.

The Liberty High grad made his sixth touchdown catch of the year a memorable one as it lifted the Tigers past Northeastern, 33-32.

It wasn't the touchdown catch itself -- a 10-yard fade route into the left corner of the end zone -- that was so amazing. It was more the timing and the circumstances that preceded the play that made ESPN's highlight film and CNN's "Play of the Day."

All the fun started after Northeastern quarterback Ralph Barone ran 32 yards for a score to give the visiting Huskies an apparent 32-27 victory with four seconds left.

"I had no idea I was going to be on the kickoff team until Coach [Gordy] Combs called me over and sent me in. I didn't even know where to go," Orlando said.

"They just told me if I got it to lateral it off."

Sure enough, on the ensuing kickoff Orlando returned the ball to the Towson 40-yard line and managed to lateral off as he was about to be tackled. After a second lateral, Towson's Julian Blair went down the sideline to the Northeastern 20 as the final gun sounded.

All the while, the Northeastern bench was running onto the field in celebration thinking Orlando had been tackled.

The Huskies were penalized half the distance of the goal for "illegal participation," setting up Orlando's touchdown catch with no time on the clock.

"It was supposed to be a slant, but at the last second, I changed the route to a fade," Orlando said, while waiting for a call from ABC's Jim Lampley yesterday morning.

"I thought Danny [Crowley] was going to kill me because he really had to stay in there and wait on [the play to develop]. He just threw it out there, and it landed right in my hands. The celebration was unbelievable."

Orlando has been making big plays for the Tigers the past two years.

After catching 44 passes for 686 yards and four touchdowns in his redshirt freshman campaign, the 6-foot-1, 182-pound Orlando has 28 catches this season for 567 yards (20 yards per catch) with the six touchdowns.

"He's the guy we go to in long-ball situations, and time and time again, he's come up with the big play for us." Combs said earlier in the season.

"In addition to being so fast, he's also very quick, and the two makes for a great combination. Not only can he go deep and catch the long ball, but he can also catch a hitch pass and break tackles to make something happen."

Not many on the Towson team had any idea Orlando was a quarterback at Liberty High. Nor could they believe it when they found out.

Maybe it's Orlando's blinding speed, soft hands or 20-yards-per-catch average that would make people think he has been playing wide receiver all his life.

"I was definitely a wide receiver playing quarterback," Orlando said of his high school days.

"Guys are laughing at me now because I can hardly throw a spiral. They can't figure out how I could have ever been a quarterback."

These days, Orlando is happy to have traded in his high school No. 20 for his Tigers No. 83.

"I was a little green last year and sometimes got a little too anxious," Orlando said.

"I guess last year I was getting the feel of being a receiver where this year I'm definitely a receiver."

Orlando said his first two years at Towson played a key role in his development as a college receiver. As a redshirt, he was able to practice with the team -- often going up against the starting defense -- and get the feel of being on the other side of the passing game.

Last year, the Tigers went with a run-and-shoot offense, which gave him extra unexpected playing time.

"Playing against the first defense and just running pass routes was a tremendous help my first year. My second year, I wasn't expecting to get much playing time but the run-and-shoot offense we played was a lot of fun and gave me an opportunity to play more," Orlando said.

Combs said Orlando really began to flourish this past spring and his improvement has carried into the fall season.

"Last year we were a little concerned because he dropped a few balls, but that's all part of being a young player," he said.

"During the spring, he just got better and better and better and has completely made the adjustment. We feel great about having him and [quarterback Dan] Crowley here for the next couple of years."

Orlando is pretty happy to be there, too.

"I just love to play and go out there with a smile on my face every game," he said.

You can bet those isolated cornerbacks aren't smiling.

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