COLLEGE PARK -- University of Maryland place-kicker Dan DeArmas was on one knee, praying, when he heard the roar from the crowd.
"That was my signal from the Lord," said DeArmas. "He was giving me another chance, and I was going to do it for him."
Soon after, DeArmas kicked a 25-yard field goal with 11 seconds remaining to lift Maryland past North Carolina State, 13-12, yesterday before 25,371 at Byrd Stadium.
Maryland (3-1 overall, 1-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) is off to its best start since 1986, and the win set off euphoria not seen in College Park since the Terps beat North Carolina, 28-26, in 1983 on their way to the conference title.
Maryland fans rushed onto the field and tore down a goal post. They hugged and mauled the Terps. And the players who escaped watched the events from the hill leading into the football building.
Terps defensive tackle Lubo Zizakovic said: "It was the first time I've ever been mauled, and I kind of liked it."
Maryland quarterback Scott Zolak said: "Incredible. I haven't seen this kind of excitement around here for a long time. Somebody upstairs is looking out for us."
Maybe, but Maryland's defense deserves a little credit, too. The Terps held N.C. State to 274 yards of offense, and four times they came up with big plays. Zizakovic blocked a field-goal and an extra-point try, and the Terps stopped a two-point conversion play and recovered a fumble that set up the winning field goal.
But the plays that had the Terps talking about divine intervention occurred with 1 minute, 27 seconds left in the game. One play after Maryland had been stopped on fourth-and-eight at its 42, Wolfpack halfback Aubrey Shaw fumbled, and Terps free safety Mike Thomas recovered it at midfield.
Maryland's offense, which didn't have any continuity until the fourth period, added suspense with two illegal-procedure penalties. Then Zolak, suffering through his worst performance this season (26 of 47 passing for 259 yards, but four interceptions), threw a 20-yard pass to wide receiver Barry Johnson down the left sideline. A play later, Zolak arched a 28-yard pass behind wide receiver Gene Thomas, who stopped, came back and caught the ball over free safety Sebastian Savage, who outran the pass.
More luck or divine intervention? Two plays later, DeArmas, who had missed a 43-yard field-goal attempt with 4:36 left in the third period, kicked the winning field goal.
But not until he had a little fun with his teammates.
"I was frustrated with myself because I had missed the field goal earlier in the game," said DeArmas, who was successful on three of five field-goal tries before yesterday. "I asked God to give me another chance and I would do it for him. I was praying on their last possession, and once I heard the crowd noise, I knew I was getting another chance."
"When I walked out onto the field, the guys in the huddle were wired," DeArmas said. "I tried not to think about there being only 14 seconds left in the game, so I started joking with the guys.
"I told them Mitch [Suplee, center] would hike the ball over Jimmy's [holder Jim Sandwisch] head and Jimmy would pick it (( up, lateral it to me and I would high-step it into the end zone for a touchdown, dance and then get a 15-yard penalty. Clarence [Jones, a 6-foot-6, 277-pound offensive tackle] almost took my head off for that joke."
The Wolfpack didn't see the humor in the situation, either. In the previous two games, N.C. State had committed 10 turnovers. The play called to Shaw was a simple handoff, a play that N.C. State coach Dick Sheridan called "the safest handoff we've got." The loss put the Wolfpack (2-2, 1-2) in a big hole in the conference race.
Shaw's giveaway was part of a game of giveaways. There wer six turnovers, and the teams were penalized a combined 14 times for 112 yards.
And Maryland's offense, which had a total of 348 yards, struggled again.
Zolak, who constantly threw high and into double coverage, did rally the team with an 11-play, 86-yard drive, capped by halfback Troy Jackson's 2-yard touchdown run around right end with 4:54 left in the game, pulling Maryland within 12-10.
"Four interceptions, huh? I stopped counting after a while," said Zolak, smiling. "Interceptions are going to happen. I'm not going to worry about them. They did a great job covering, and, for a while, they were running and blitzing everybody. I definitely can improve.
"But I like the pressure. People relax, get lazy and tend to get out of rhythm. I think that is when I do a little better, because it increases my tempo. I just don't want to let people down," said Zolak, who completed 12 of 18 passes in the fourth period for 145 yards.
Some of Maryland's defensive players said they don't need all this excitement.
Linebacker Scott Whittier said: "One week, just one week, I'd like to win by two or three touchdowns."
They had to play hard again this week to salvage a victory. N.C. State exposed Maryland's weakness in pass defense, scoring on a 43-yarder from quarterback Charles Davenport to wide-out Bobby Jurgens on a fly pattern with five minutes left in the first period. Zizakovic, though, blocked the extra-point try by penetrating up the middle, keeping N.C. State's lead at 6-0.
Maryland's Mike Hopson fumbled a punt at the Terps 20, and the Wolfpack recovered with 8:10 left in the half. But Shaw lost 1 yard on a run left, fullback Chris Cotton gained 2 on a dive up the middle, and Davenport scrambled for 6 yards on third down.
Then, Damon Hart's 30-yard field-goal try was blocked by Zizakovic, 6-7, going up the middle again.
"The center who snapped the ball wasn't very big, and I lined up on one side and just tried to get penetration," said Zizakovic. "After I blocked the first one, I was on cloud nine. Then I just said there was no way they were going to get it, and I went after the second one.
N.C. State's defense, ranked first in the conference overall, set up what seemed to be the winning touchdown when Zolak badly underthrew tight end Bret Boehly on a short pass that linebacker David Merritt intercepted and returned to the Maryland 37 with 1:32 left in the third quarter.
Nine plays later, Shaw took a pitch around left end for a 10-yard touchdown. Davenport tried to run an option left on the two-point conversion try, but Terps linebacker Greg Hines and Thomas converged on Davenport, forcing him to pitch wildly, as the Terps smothered the play.
"We went for the two-point conversion to force them to score two touchdowns to win," said Sheridan. "If we were going to win the conference title, we knew we didn't need a tie, and that's what kicking the extra point would have set up."