WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Maryland sought a victory that would provide some warmth at the end of a chilly, bleak fall.
What the Terps got was a mind-boggling, 33-32 win over Wake Forest that provided them with a memory that was, well, Red Hot, the motto coach Mark Duffner gave them back in August.
Maryland crawled out of a 23-0 deficit and the Atlantic Coast Conference cellar, capping the comeback with a 99-yard drive into a 25-mph wind that culminated with an 8-yard touchdown pass from Scott Milanovich to Russ Weaver with no time left.
The drive came after a goal-line stand and before an extra point that provided the final margin. The Terps themselves mentioned the irony, since defensive and kicking game shortcomings had made this one of the most forgettable seasons in school history -- before yesterday, at least.
"That's the best," Duffner said after watching his team trail for the entire 60 minutes and still win. "I've never experienced anything like that, not when this football team had to go 99 yards. To come back the way they did was phenomenal. Then to see the defense and the kicking game come through. . . ."
Statistically the worst defensive team in the history of the NCAA, Maryland had allowed 577 yards when John Leach went up the gut for the 46th time on fourth-and-goal at the Terps' 1-yard line with 2:35 left. A makeshift lineup dominated by freshmen and walk-ons stuffed Leach a foot short of the goal line.
After Milanovich led the Terps to a 14-play, 99-yard masterpiece that finished with the pass to Weaver, it was up to walk-on John Milligan to finish the Terps' most improbable comeback since they dug out of a 31-0 hole at Miami in 1984.
Deficiencies in the kicking game had cost Maryland all year -- with the wind at his back, Duffner went for two points after their first two touchdowns -- but Milligan hit it clean out of the hold of David Mike for the third straight time in as many chances.
Someone could have gotten hurt in the joyous pileup that gathered at the Wake Forest 25-yard line, but they have nine months to heal. Even if Maryland shattered the NCAA record for yards allowed in a season, the Terps weren't about to dwell on the negative. Maryland finished 2-9 overall and 2-6 in the ACC, where it probably will share seventh place with Duke. Wake Forest (2-9) ended 1-7 and last in the ACC, as Maryland avoided its first last-place finish since 1971 and the first 10-loss season in its history.
"We could've quit all game," said Milanovich, a sophomore who ended with a school-record 37 completions, 416 yards, five touchdowns and a mess of records. "It's a game you really shouldn't win, not after the way we started, but I guess we showed people something today."
It was "American Airlines Day" at Groves Stadium, where the announced attendance was 12,521, and maybe the Terps had that corporation's striking employees in mind with their work stoppage in the first quarter.
Maryland started against a wind that gusted up to 25 mph, but not all of the blunders it made in the first 10 minutes, when it allowed Wake Forest more points than it had scored in six of its 10 games, could be blamed on the conditions. The Demon Deacons raced to a 17-0 lead, and went up 23-0 when Leach went in from 1 yard with 10:09 left in the first half.
Milanovich and freshman Mancel Johnson jump-started the Terps with a 66-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter. Milanovich threw for two more touchdowns with the wind in the third quarter, but heading into the final 14 minutes, Maryland was still down 32-19 and Leach was still running wild.
Milanovich completed a 74-yard drive with a 16-yard screen to Mark Mason that cut the gap to 32-26 with 8:45 left, but Leach personally controlled the clock for the next six minutes. He carried 11 straight times for 64 yards that gave him an ACC-record 329 yards and the Demon Deacons a fourth-and-goal at the 1.
While Wake Forest coach Jim Caldwell passed on a chip-shot field goal that probably would have iced the game just as easily as a touchdown, the Terps staff called a timeout and pondered its chances. Leading tackler Ratcliff Thomas left in the first half with an injury, at least two other starters were hurt and Maryland was down to special-teams kamikaze Kevin Plank at inside linebacker.
Leach got it for a 12th straight time, but freshman tackle Johnnie Hicks got a good angle and stopped him a foot short of the goal line.
Maryland was 99 yards away with only 2:35 to play. The Terps were going into the wind, so deep routes were out of the question, and they began by dinking their way out. They were still on their 27-yard line with less than a minute to play, but Milanovich found Johnson for 18 yards and Jason Kremus for 22 on a sideline route that got them to the Wake Forest 18 with 15 seconds left.
After an incompletion, cornerback Tom Steutzer interferred with Johnson, giving the Terps one last play at the 8 with five seconds left. Getting extra time from the offensive line and Mason, Milanovich looked left, stepped up in the pocket and spotted Weaver open in the right corner.
"I wanted to throw to Kremus in the left corner, but it was covered," Milanovich said. "I wasn't going to take the chance of ++ running it, because I've seen too many teams run out of time on the 1. I think it was a four-man rush, and Mason made a great block. I just went through my reads, and waited for someone to come open."
The ball was in the air maybe three seconds, but it felt considerably longer to Weaver, who gently snuggled it for his 14th catch, which tied a Maryland record.
"Two, three seconds, it felt about 235," Weaver said. "He [Milanovich] was looking for Kremus, but as soon as he turned, I knew he was going to throw it my way."