As the field-goal attempt sailed high into the air and the final seconds ticked off the clock, it appeared Maryland was somehow going to survive losing its starting quarterback and delight a homecoming crowd by remaining unbeaten in Atlantic Coast Conference play.
But, in a game full of odd twists and hard hits, the cruelest hit of all for Maryland may have been freshman kicker Brad Craddock's 33-yard field-goal attempt slamming into the left upright with two seconds left to preserve North Carolina State's 20-18 victory in front of an announced crowd of 40,217 at Byrd Stadium.
Craddock lay on his back after the miss with his hands on his head as N.C. State players leaped up and down to celebrate a finish that Wolfpack coach Tom O'Brien called "crazy."
In a game in which two Maryland quarterbacks excelled after starter Perry Hills left the game with a second-quarter knee injury, Craddock missed a chance to become the biggest hero of all.
"I actually thought I hit it pretty well," said Craddock, a native Australian who is still learning American football. "It's never good missing one, you know? It hit like the top of the upright."
Maryland had driven to N.C. State's 14 on a 33-yard pass from Caleb Rowe -- the third Maryland quarterback to appear in the game -- to Nigel King in the final minute.
Maryland coach Randy Edsall had inserted Rowe, who had yet to play for the Terps, because he liked the way the freshman directed the two-minute offense. Rowe was 2-for-2 for 50 yards.
Edsall called the loss "heartbreaking."
Maryland (4-3, 2-1 ACC) missed a chance to move to 3-0 in the conference for just the second time since 1985. It would have been the second-year Maryland coach's first win against a conference team with a winning record.
Earlier, redshirt sophomore Devin Burns had rallied the Terps to an 18-17 lead on three straight scoring drives in the second half after Hills was knocked out of the game.
But, trailing by one point, N.C. State (5-2, 2-1 ACC) took over on its 20-yard line following a punt with 2:17 left.
The Wolfpack -- who were held to 40 yards rushing in the game -- moved to the Maryland 31 on two 14-yard completions by quarterback Mike Glennon (23-of-47, 307 yards).
A pair of runs got N.C. State to the 26, setting up Niklas Sade's 43-yard field goal that made it 20-18 with 32 seconds left.
"They were just spreading us out," said Maryland defensive lineman A.J. Francis, who had five tackles. "It hurts. It's one of those things where you've got to play 60 minutes.'
Hills, the Terps' starting quarterback, was playing behind a patchwork, injury-depleted offensive line. He was often hit hard and was injured in the final moments of the first half.
The Terps were trailing, 10-3, and had moved to the Wolfpack 21 when Hills' pass was intercepted by David Amerson. Hills, who gave chase, remained on the field after the play ended.
Edsall came out to check on him, but Hills was unable to stand without aid, and leaned back and grimaced as he was carted off the field. Maryland said he had a knee injury.
"We will wait to see what the MRI tells about it, but it doesn't look good," Edsall said.
Burns -- who switched from receiver to quarterback after former starting quarterback C.J Brown was lost for the season in August -- passed for 47 yards and rushed for 50.
The Terps had not scored a touchdown in the game until Burns led them on successive touchdown drives in the third quarter. Craddock missed the extra point after the first score.
Burns' third possession of the second half resulted in a 48-yard Craddock field goal to give Mayrland an 18-17 lead.
The speedy Burns gave the Terps a changeup. His ability to run on option plays seemed to surprise the Wolfpack, whose game plan had been designed to pressure Hills.
"Probably the worst thing that happened to us was that we knocked the quarterback out of the game," O'Brien said. "You get ready for a little bit of option, but you don't get ready for a lot."
Burns, who had taken only three previous snaps at quarterback this season, said he was not nervous. He had little time to ponder his situation because he entered the game so quickly.
Plus, he said, "I'm pretty much cool, calm and collected."
Burns "was not scared to tuck the ball and run, and he was very shifty and fast," said freshman running back Wes Brown, who returned from a shoulder injury and reinvigorated Maryland's running game with 121 yards on 25 carries. Maryland netted minus-2 rushing yards in beating Virginia a week earlier.
Craddock is now 8-for-13 on field-goal attempts and 15-for-17 on extra points. Most of the players and fans will remember only his final attempt of the night.
"I was just not looking, but praying and hoping for the best," said N.C. State receiver Bryan Underwood, who caught a touchdown pass for the seventh straight game, extending a school record. "We heard the bang and it was just a great feeling."
Said Maryland defensive lineman Joe Vellano: "I wouldn't want to be in that situation, to be the kicker. It is what it is."