COLLEGE PARK -- At least it was a team effort.
Both Maryland's offense and defense came up short at critical moments in yesterday's season-opening, 43-29 loss to Virginia at Byrd Stadium. Blown coverages and missed tackles, evident all game, assisted the Cavaliers' two fourth-quarter scoring drives, and in between the offense couldn't move 10 yards with four downs.
The result was reminiscent of 1992, when Virginia scored the last 16 points in a season-opening, 28-15 victory over Maryland. It was the first of five instances during a 3-8 season in which coach Mark Duffner's first Terps team was unable to secure a victory that was within reach in the fourth quarter.
"It feels a lot like last year," said sophomore quarterback Scott Milanovich, who was one of 14 Terps making their first collegiate start. "The difference is we've got a lot younger team now. We had a chance to quit in the third quarter with a young team, but we didn't. We had the crowd [35,015] going and we had the opportunity to step up and win it, but we didn't do it."
A series of fortunate bounces kept the Terps afloat against a Virginia team that netted 473 yards, compared to the 474 Maryland allowed per game last year. Virginia fumbles set up the Terps' two first-half touchdowns, and a blocked punt preceded Milanovich's 44-yard touchdown pass to Jermaine Lewis that forced a tie at 29 on the last play of the third quarter.
The young Terps -- nearly two dozen were appearing in their first college game -- weren't ready to win a game that would improve their stock in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Breakdowns on both sides of the ball will be reviewed often on the coaches' VCRs this weekend.
The first came on defense, and it centered on Duffner's concerns over the Terps' depth. With free safety Angel Guerra and defensive line leader Mark Sturdivant leaving the game with injuries, Maryland finished with a unit that had seven players who were appearing in their first Division I-A game.
One of them, right cornerback Orlando Strozier, maintained the tie but only held off the inevitable with an interception near the goal line with 10:41 left.
Virginia's first four touchdowns came on drives of 80, 80, 58 and 80 yards, and the Cavaliers' offensive line and sophomore quarterback Symmion Willis cranked it up again after Milanovich took out his frustrations on a 55-yard punt.
The Cavaliers went 70 yards in nine plays to go ahead for good, the key play on the drive and maybe the game coming on third-and-eight from their 32-yard line. Left cornerback Gene RTC Green was left alone against two potential receivers, and Willis -- had plenty of time to connect with tight end Aaron Mundy for 28 yards.
"Mundy's catch has to be the biggest play of the game," Virginia coach George Welsh said.
Junior fullback Charles Way, a 240-pound bruiser who carried 21 times for 136 yards, went in over the left side untouched from 1 yard out for a 36-29 lead.
It came with 6:07 left, plenty of time remaining for a Maryland offense that needed a little more than two minutes to score its last two touchdowns. The comeback was over, however, as defensive end Mike Frederick broke through and leveled senior superback Mark Mason for a 1-yard loss on fourth-and-one from the Terps' 35 with 4:14 left.
"He [Frederick] was jumping all around, and we blocked the play wrong," junior center Jamie Bragg said. "That was a critical point. We've got to learn to put away games in the fourth quarter."
Way rambled 23 yards four plays later, then went in from the 2 with 2:48 left, securing Virginia's fourth win over Maryland in the past six years.
Willis, the Cavaliers' sophomore quarterback, completed his first five passes during the opening 80-yard drive that ended with Raphael Wall and Strozier missing tackles on a 4-yard swing pass to Jerrod Washington.
The Terps weren't discouraged, however, and they jumped on top courtesy of two Virginia fumbles, both on pitches to Washington and both recovered by Strozier.
Maryland thus needed only to travel 17 and 23 yards, respectively, for its first two touchdowns. The Terps got nothing out of two second-quarter possessions that moved to the Virginia 12 and 22, however, as freshman field-goal kicker Ken Lytle, a fill-in for the ineligible recruit Lonny Calicchio, was wide right from 29 yards and had a 39-yarder bounce off the crossbar.
Virginia appeared to take control with another long drive that saw Way go the last 14 yards for a 29-14 lead with 8:32 left in the third quarter.
After trading punts, the Terps began to come back with a six-play, 95-yard drive that included two favorable bounces. Under pressure, Milanovich tossed up a jump ball that Andrew Carter won for 34 yards, and Cavaliers cornerback Carl Smith got a hand on a 37-yard touchdown pass to freshman Mancel Johnson, whose first collegiate catch cut the gap to 29-22.
The special teams provided another lift six plays later, when Roberts blocked a punt and Erik Henry recovered. Facing a seven-man rush on the next play, Milanovich went to Lewis on a post pattern that turned into a 44-yard touchdown, giving Lewis seven catches for 94 yards. Maryland's bid for a tie was aided by a Virginia offsides penalty, as Mason ran for the conversion points and a 29-29 tie from inside the 2. Tied with a quarter to go, it was Virginia that stepped up.
"I thought we were gaining momentum," Duffner said. "I thought we were in control."
NEXT FOR TERPS: N. CAROLINA
When: Saturday, at Chapel Hill, 1:30 p.m.
Yesterday: Defeated Ohio University, 44-3. Leon Johnson rushed for 147 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries for the No. 16 Tar Heels, who gained a total of 432 yards on the ground. North Carolina completed only four passes.