Miscues costly, Maryland bows, 24-10 Interception for TD sets tone for another Penn State victory


UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- This time, it wasn't even close.

Usually a Maryland-Penn State game is decided by one big pla -- maybe a missed field-goal try, a fumble, an interception or an incomplete conversion pass that gives Penn State a victory.

But yesterday, Maryland committed several mistakes, as No. 21-ranked Penn State defeated the Terps, 24-10, before 83,000 at Beaver Stadium.

Where to start?

Well, on the Terps' first offensive series, Scott Zolak threw an interception that was returned 74 yards for a touchdown.

Early in the third quarter, Maryland gave up a 30-yard touchdow pass on fourth-and-21, one of several long passes the Terps allowed. Also, the Terps' Mike Hopson fumbled a punt that led to a field goal late in the second quarter, tying the game at 10.

And then there were the missed tackles, the poor play by several offensive linemen on pass protection and . . .

"I've been playing and coaching against these guys for a lot o years, and you just can't give them the opportunities we gave them," said Maryland coach Joe Krivak. "If you do, Penn State will nail and kill you."

Especially against Maryland, which hasn't beaten the Nittany Lions since 1961 and trails the series, 32-1-1. The teams played a string of close games in the 1980s, capped by last year's 13-13 tie at Memorial Stadium. But yesterday's mistakes wiped out any chance the Terps had of catching Penn State (7-2) looking ahead to its game at No. 1 Notre Dame next week.

Krivak, who is in the final year of a four-year contract, was criticized two weeks ago for his team not being mentally ready in a 34-10 rout by North Carolina.

Yesterday, his players took the blame.

"The coach had nothing to do with the loss," said Terps nose guard Rick Fleece. "We lost the game because we made too many mistakes. The coach can't play the game for you."

Said Maryland cornerback Scott Rosen: "We match up well with Penn State every year. The reason we lose every year is that their concentration is at a greater level. We made too many mistakes today, and they were all physical."

The mistakes also cost Maryland (5-5) another shot to clinch it first winning season since 1985. The Terps have one more chance, a season-ending game against No. 11 Virginia.

Zolak said: "Our chances are getting smaller and smaller. We don't have a shot at a bowl game or the conference title, so I guess Virginia is our bowl game. It's a big game, and to beat them will require a tremendous effort. I think we gave a pretty good effort today, and I expect us to give another one next week."

It needs to be an effort significantly better than yesterday. Th most costly of all the mistakes happened on Penn State's first offensive series of the second half.

Faced with fourth-and-21 at the 30, Penn State quarterback Ton Sacca play-faked and hit wide receiver David Daniels on a post pattern as he split cornerback Michael Hollis and free safety Mike Thomas for a touchdown 4 minutes, 22 seconds into the third period for a 17-10 Penn State lead.

The irony of the play is that Penn State shouldn't have been play-faking and several Maryland players shouldn't have been frozen on the fake, including Thomas. Worse yet, Penn State ran the post pattern eight plays earlier for a 46-yard gain from Sacca to Daniels.

"We were in three-deep coverage," said Krivak. "With fourth-and [21], you just can't go for the play-action fake. They just split the corner and the safety. Those two plays were the big plays of the game. You have to make those plays to get over the hump."

Said Hollis: "I'm pretty peeved about the play. It was my fault. H [Daniels] went outside first, then came back to the inside. I was supposed to get some support, but Mike had to be Superman to make that play. I'm taking all the credit for that play. We lost a lot of momentum, and I let the guys down."

Penn State went ahead, 24-10, with four seconds left in the thir quarter on tailback Leroy Thompson's 10-yard run on a draw play.

Maryland got as far as the Penn State 6, but Zolak's pass was high to wide receiver Gene Thomas on a fourth-and-goal with 5:30 left in the game.

"If we get that in, that gives us a chance to go to the dance wit the offense again," said Krivak.

But Zolak misfired, as he did several times yesterday. Twice he overthrew a wide-open Barry Johnson down the sidelines on possible touchdown passes, and he also threw high to Johnson on a slant in pattern in the end zone.

Zolak completed 14 of 37 passes for a season-low 130 yards. His job became tougher once the Terps got behind, because Penn State blitzed frequently, forcing Zolak to ground the ball. Zolak hit only one of his 11 passes in the second half, as Maryland failed to score.

Zolak's biggest mistake came with 2:31 elapsed in the game when he overthrew H-back Frank Wycheck along the right sideline and cornerback Leonard Humphries, playing a zone and not even close to the play, picked it off and ran 74 yards for a touchdown. It was the third time one of Zolak's passes was intercepted and returned for a touchdown this season.

"I thought he [Humphries] was going to run outside with Barry Johnson," said Zolak. "And when I overthrew Frank, he was sitting right there. He didn't have to move."

Despite the mistake, Maryland, which had only 236 yards of tota offense, played fairly well in the first half. The defense, which held Penn State scoreless on three possessions inside the Maryland 35-yard line, also made a goal-line stand with 3:34 left in the third period.

Maryland tied the score at 7-7 on a 2-yard pass from Zolak t Johnson with 23 seconds left in the first period, and the teams traded field goals in the second.

But Penn State, which had only 90 yards of total offense in th first half, turned it up in the second to finish with 362.

Penn State exposed Maryland's weaknesses in the second half, as Sacca, who completed only one of five passes in the first half, finished with eight completions on 16 attempts for 162 yards.

"Tony had a great second half, and Dave [Daniels] made a couple of big catches for us," said Penn State coach Joe Paterno. "The first half, they did a couple of things that we just didn't take advantage of. We had to put some things together at halftime."

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