Several weeks ago, Maryland kicker Nick Ferrara said he vividly imagined himself kicking the winning field goal against Miami and sending his coach, Randy Edsall, home a winner in his Terps debut.
In his detailed daydream, Ferrara anticipated his kick coming from about 41 yards.
The yardage in Ferrara's fantasy was a bit off, but his kick wasn't. The third-year kicker booted a 32-yarder Monday night with 1:39 left to give the Terps the lead for good. A minute later, Maryland cornerback Cameron Chism -- whose earlier defensive holding penalty had proved costly -- stepped in front of a sideline pass and returned the interception 54 yards for the clinching touchdown in Maryland's 32-24 win over the Hurricanes.
Miami's final drive ended with Maryland linebacker Kenny Tate's interception of quarterback Stephen Morris (19-for-28, 195 yards, two interceptions).
"I feel like it doesn't get any more big than this," Ferrara said. "Except for the ACC title and national championship, and we're playing for that, too."
Ferrara said he had forced himself to forget missing an earlier 23-yarder.
"As I was kicking that [successful] kick I was 0-0," he said.
Maryland rolled up 499 yards as Miami played without eight players suspended for receiving impermissible benefits from Nevin Shapiro, a now-jailed former booster. The Hurricanes were particularly short-handed on defense. Top players Ray-Ray Armstrong (safety), Sean Spence (linebacker) and Marcus Forston (defensive lineman) were all among the missing.
The scandal -- and the intermittent hard rain -- threatened to remove some of the luster from an opener that Maryland hoped to use as a showcase for all that is new about its program. The Terps have a new coach and new uniforms and have marketed the season as a the "dawn of a new era" to try to invigorate fans. Maryland issued 400 media credentials for the game, many to ESPN, which broadcast the game in a prime-time, Labor Day slot that traditionally draws strong ratings.
Edsall acknowledged afterward that the Terps -- who squandered repeated red-zone opportunities -- "left points on the board."
But he said the Terps "showed resiliency" in coming back late. "To watch these young men go and persevere I'm not going to dwell on those [negative] things," he said. "I'm just so proud of them."
Miami took the lead on its first possession of the second half. Morris rolled in from 5 yards out, capping a 62-yard drive that made it 21-20.
Maryland regained the lead at 23-21 on Ferrara's third field goal -- a 28-yarder in the third quarter. The Terps had kept the 14-play drive alive on Danny O'Brien's quarterback sneak on fourth-and-1 from the Miami 28.
Ferrara missed a 23-yarder wide right with 12:26 left.
Miami followed with a 67-yard drive capped by a 30-yard field goal by Jake Wieclaw to push the Hurricanes to a 24-23 lead with 4:01 left. Earlier in the drive, Miami converted third-and-17 when Chism was called for holding, giving the Hurricanes the ball at the Maryland 21.
With a new head coach and offensive coordinator, Maryland fans had wondered what the offense would look like.
Maryland used four-receiver sets, three-receiver sets and other formations. The Terps used a shotgun, but not exclusively. They sometimes split out the tight end .
Above all, the Terps used screen passes. New offensive coordinator Gary Crowton, hired from LSU, once popularized a play in the NFL known as a "tunnel screen" in which the receiver cuts back toward the line. He loves swing passes and screens.
O'Brien, a redshirt sophomore, completed 31 of 44 passes for 348 yards.
His longest pass was the most valuable for Maryland. With Maryland trailing at the end, O'Brien hit Kevin Dorsey (eight catches for 124 yards) for 52 yards to the Miami 22. The Terps then moved to the 14 before Ferrara's go-ahead field goal with 1:39 left.
Edsall said he had faith in Ferrara, who had missed an earlier chip shot from 23 yards.
"I was going to kick the field goal. I have a lot of confidence in Nick," the coach said.
Maryland had begun the evening night by racing onto the Byrd Stadium field with new uniforms and gaudy red, white, gold and black helmets. The Terps then spent the evening trying to live up to their flashy uniforms.
The new helmets had been a surprise. The helmets were not unveiled during a "fashion show" last month and had not been publicly seen.
"That makes me prouder than anything, that we could be that quiet [about the helmets]," Edsall said.
Maryland took the opening kickoff and drove 79 yards for a touchdown on its first series of the season. Senior receiver Ronnie Tyler took a swing pass and raced 10 yards, diving on the pylon for the score.
Leading 7-0, the Terps missed a red-zone opportunity when O'Brien -- who was intercepted only eight times last season -- was picked off in the end zone by Vaughn Telemaque.
But the Terps recovered a fumble by Morris and drove 62 yards in 11 plays, taking a 10-0 lead on a 24-yard Ferrara field goal. Maryland had 14 first downs by then to only three for the Hurricanes.
Miami cut the margin to 10-7 on a 1-yard run by Mike James in the second quarter.