WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. - For two years, Bruce Perry was tired. He was tired of his body betraying him, tired of the constant questions and endless doubts, and tired of visiting the training room instead of the end zone.
For the good of the Maryland football team, he swallowed his frustration and buried his pain. But certainly, there were days and nights when he wondered: How much longer do I have to endure this?
No more, it seems. Last night, Perry looked like his old self for the first time since 2001, running for 237 yards and three touchdowns to help Maryland defeat Wake Forest, 41-28, in front of 18,783 at Groves Stadium.
The win was the fourth straight for the Terps (9-3, 6-2 Atlantic Coast Conference), who closed out the regular season with nine victories in their past 10 games. Maryland, which with the victory clinched sole possession of second place in the ACC, won't play until the Gator Bowl on Jan. 1, when the Terps are expected to take on West Virginia, which defeated Temple, 45-28, yesterday.
But last night definitely belonged to Perry, Maryland's senior running back. Two years ago, Perry was the ACC's Offensive Player of the Year when he rushed for 1,242 yards and 10 touchdowns. But in the two seasons that followed, Perry has struggled to stay healthy, missing eight games in 2002 and three this season. He has battled injuries to his shoulder, his groin, his abdominal muscles and his ankles. Last night was the first time he ran for more than 100 yards since running for 143 against Virginia on Oct. 6, 2001.
"Everyone knows what I've been through this year and last year," said Perry, who ran for 276 yards against Wake Forest two years ago in Groves Stadium. "I always knew I could do it, but I've had a string of bad luck. ... This game, I guess I really released a lot of frustration."
As it turns out, Maryland needed every ounce of Perry's raw emotion and energy, especially after falling behind 21-6 in the first half. Wake Forest running back Chris Barclay matched Perry run for run, and had an outstanding night of his own, rushing for 243 yards and three touchdowns. It was just the fifth time in NCAA history and the first time in the ACC that two running backs on opposing teams have rushed for more than 200 yards in a game.
"It was like a track meet," said Barclay, a sophomore. "I know he's a great back and after the game, we congratulated each other and I wished him good luck. This offseason, I sat back with my dad, who tapes all the games, and watched [Perry]. Sometimes the best way you can learn is film, and I just watched the way he played."
Barclay looked like an excellent study in the first half, scoring on a 53-yard run on Wake Forest's opening drive, and then again on a 5-yard dash in the second quarter. Maryland, which knew it was going to the Gator Bowl regardless of last night's outcome, looked lethargic and confused in the first half, which is exactly what Terps coach Ralph Friedgen was afraid would happen.
"No matter how hard you try to talk to the guys, no matter what you say to them, it's still like they're in a trance out there," Friedgen said. "It's not easy to win on the road in the ACC, no matter what anyone says."
Once Maryland got down 21-6, however, the team seemed to snap out of its daze. Just before halftime, Terps quarterback Scott McBrien capped off a 10-play, 77-yard drive with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Danny Melendez, curtailing some of the Demon Deacons' momentum.
Maryland got another big play in the third quarter when a promising Wake Forest drive ended at the Terps' 18-yard line on an interception by linebacker D'Qwell Jackson.
"That was a huge play in the game," Friedgen said.
Things, however, were just getting exciting. Perry scored three plays later on a 49-yard run to make it 21-20, and on Wake Forest's next possession, Terps safety Madieu Williams intercepted a pass from Cory Randolph.
McBrien hit Jafar Williams for a 28-yard touchdown (the senior receiver's first at Maryland), then found Perry in the end zone for a two-point conversion, giving Maryland its first lead of the game at 28-21.
But Barclay wasn't done. On the Demon Deacons' first play from scrimmage, Barclay ran up the middle untouched 74 yards for his third touchdown.
Perry then made it three touchdowns in three plays, taking a handoff from McBrien on an option and going 80 yards down the sideline to put Maryland back up 35-28. Perry, who was throwing up on the sideline right before the play, wasn't even supposed to get the ball, but on the fake he pulled it out of McBrien's hands.
"He was tugging at it, so I guess he had a feeling," McBrien said. "I made the wrong read on the play anyway. Everyone felt really good seeing Bruce run the way he did today."
In 1:40, the two teams combined for four scores.