As Maryland's lead ballooned to 14, 20 and then 27 points, it became library-quiet inside Carter-Finley Stadium.
It was as if the red-clad N.C. State fans were all thinking it at once: Is Maryland, losers of seven games in a row, really going to deny the Wolfpack bowl eligibility in its last regular-season game?
But it was not to be, not in this dreadful Maryland season. Led by quarterback Mike Glennon, N.C. State took advantage of late Maryland turnovers to post a remarkable 56-41 victory -- its greatest comeback ever -- Saturday afternoon.
The Wolfpack scored 42 unanswered points on six straight possessions spanning the third and fourth quarters, overcoming a four-touchdown deficit. It was the second biggest Atlantic Coast Conference comeback, behind only Clemson's 29-point surge in a 29-28 victory over Virginia in 1992.
Instead of a recording a win, Maryland became a line in another team's record book. And a dismal Terps season became memorable for a game that the program would just as soon forget.
Maryland finished the season 2-10 (1-7 ACC) and on an eight-game losing streak in coach Randy Edsall's first year with the team. But this defeat may have stung the most because the Terps led, 41-14, more than halfway through the third quarter.
"Probably one of the worst feelings I've ever had as an athlete," said Maryland linebacker Demetrius Hartsfield (18 tackles). "Definitely one of the worst because you go into halftime with so much confidence and then things just kind of fall apart."
Maryland also finished 2-10 two seasons ago under former coach Ralph Friedgen. But Hartsfield said the nature of Saturday's defeat made this year feel worse than 2009.
The Terps lost their last seven games by double-digit margins. Their only victory against a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent was opening weekend against Miami -- the debut of Edsall and his staff, and of the team's splashy new uniforms.
Edsall, who was hired from Connecticut after last season, was reserved after Saturday's game. He said he was disappointed -- and clearly he was -- but he seemed to be trying to be as upbeat as possible.
"We're going to have a team meeting tomorrow night and then I'm going to be heading out recruiting," said Edsall, who has a six-year contract. "I know there's things already that I know I want to do -- that we're going to get better from a team standpoint. We'll work to have more competition in our offseason program, work to continually develop leadership for our team."
Edsall did not address any changes that might be forthcoming. Thirteen of Friedgen's players with eligibility remaining left the program before the season, and more are likely to depart. Edsall had already indicated that sophomore defensive lineman David Mackall probably won't return.
Last season, the Terps denied the Wolfpack a berth in the ACC championship game with a late-November victory. On Saturday, Maryland was trying to bounce N.C. State (7-5, 4-4 ACC) from postseason consideration on a sunny Senior Day.
Maryland seemed to be in a commanding position after Davin Meggett's 46-yard run with 10:50 left in the third quarter upped its lead to 41-14. There were scattered boos from some of the Wolfpack fans in the announced crowd of 55,232.
But the Wolfpack cut the margin to 41-21 on a 6-yard pass to Tobias Palmer with 5:57 left in the third quarter. It became 41-28 on Glennon's 11-yard scoring pass to Tony Creecy on the first play of the fourth quarter. Glennon had five touchdown passes, tying the school record.
N.C. State quickly regained possession on Maryland's third lost fumble -- this one by Meggett -- giving the Wolfpack possession on the Terps' 26. Glennon's 1-yard run made it 41-35 with 13:28 left.
Then the Terps turned it over again. A 40-yard interception return by Earl Wolff set up the Wolfpack near midfield. N.C. State then drove 52 yards, taking a 42-41 lead on 1-yard run by James Washington with 7:08 left. Maryland fumbled five times in the game, losing three. N.C. State also had two interceptions.
"Craziness," was how Maryland defensive tackle Joe Vellano described the game's turnaround.
Said Meggett: "By rule, we're supposed to play four quarters and we only played two-and-a-half."
The Wolfpack extended its lead to 49-41 on Glennon's 7-yard pass to tight end George Bryan.
"We didn't stop believing," N.C. State coach Tom O'Brien said.
Until Bryan's score, it appeared Maryland would be haunted by a missed extra point by backup Michael Tart in the second quarter after place kicker Nick Ferrara was injured on a kickoff. Ferrara walked out of the stadium wearing a neck brace, but the extent of his injury was not known.
Meggett, who had 91 rushing yards, ended his career seventh on Maryland's career list. He was among 15 Terps seniors playing their last game.
The Terps had built their lead by pressuring Glennon in the first half. The Wolfpack had four turnovers by halftime.
It began with N.C. State's Washington losing the ball without being hit. Maryland's Dexter McDougle scooped it up and raced 66 yards for a touchdown to put Maryland up, 7-0. It marked the first time Maryland scored first in a game since the Towson victory on Oct. 1.
That was also Maryland's last win.
"Tomorrow comes another day," Edsall said. "We're moving forward to 2012 and doing everything we can to get better. Every year is a different year. We've got a plan in place for what we want to do, how we want to go about it."
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