COLLEGE PARK -- Maryland had been a pussycat in the second half this season. When Georgia Tech tied the Terps at 14 with a touchdown and conversion pass midway through the third quarter last night, it meant that Maryland had been outscored 90-34 after chalk talks.
Instead of collapsing, however, Maryland rose up and scored three touchdowns over the next eight minutes en route to a 42-27 Atlantic Coast Conference victory over the Yellow Jackets before 30,429 at Byrd Stadium. It began a three-game homestand, and kept alive the Terps' hope for a rare winning season.
It was the first victory under the lights for Maryland (3-4, 2-4) since the Terps got coach Mark Duffner his first Division I-AA win two years ago against Pitt. Georgia Tech (1-6, 0-5) stayed in the ACC basement with Wake Forest.
Junior quarterback Scott Milanovich, perhaps buoyed by the presence of Boomer Esiason, whose career records he is trying to surpass, had his best game of the season, completing 22 of 31 passes for 322 yards and the fifth four-touchdown game of his career.
Georgia Tech, conversely, played down the stretch with a quarterback who began the season third on the depth chart, and the two times the Terps intercepted Graham Stroman broke open a close game.
The Terps clung to a 21-14 lead when Georgia Tech quarterback Tommy Luginbill left the game with a concussion. Stroman moved them to the Terps' 24, but on fourth-and-five at the 28, his sideline pass was deflected from cornerbacks Darrick Rather to A. J. Johnson.
Four plays after Johnson's 39-yard return, redshirt freshman quarterback Brian Cummings, running the Terps' short-yardage offense, got his team-leading third rushing touchdown from the 1 for a 28-14 lead with 11:59 to go.
Two plays later, reserve safety Lamont Gore picked off another Stroman pass and took it 17 yards to the Yellow Jackets' 10. Milanovich tossed a short pass to Allen Williams on second down, and the 10-yard touchdown play made it 35-14 with 9:54 left.
Georgia Tech kept it respectable with a pair of late touchdowns, the first an 80-yard pass and run on first down after Williams' touchdown, but the Terps were able to hold on and surpass last year's win total. They expect to win again next Saturday, when they play Tulane.
Down 14-3 in the second quarter, Georgia Tech drew even with 6:51 remaining in the third quarter when Luginbill passed seven yards to Jason Bender, then hit Donnie Davis on a conversion pass.
Maryland, however, answered with a nine-play, 76-yard drive and never looked back. Milanovich completed five passes on the drive that put the Terps ahead for good. The touchdown came on a 25-yard pass to wide receiver Russ Weaver with 2:46 to go in the third quarter, as the Maryland offensive line picked up a Georgia Tech blitz.
The Terps had a 14-6 halftime lead, but they were hardly satisfied, as three lost fumbles and three penalties kept Georgia Tech close.
The Maryland defense, which hadn't stopped anyone since Oct. 1, when it played admirably at Clemson, was pushed back again on the game's opening possession. Tommy Luginbill guided the Yellow Jackets 79 yards to the 1 before the Terps stiffened, and Georgia Tech settled for a 19-yard field goal from Chris Leone with 4:59 elapsed.
With Milanovich slickly operating the Maryland offense, the Terps moved 82, 80 and 58 yards on their first three possessions, but the first went for naught. The short-yardage offense was brought on when the Terps got inside the 5-yard line, but on third-and-goal from the 1, center Erik Greenstein and Cummings mishandled the snap, and Tech's Ron Rogers recovered on the 4.
For the first time in 10 series, the Maryland defense stopped the opposition, and they were called upon to do so again after Johnson fumbled Jason Bender's punt after a 15-yard return.
The Yellow Jackets drove 45 yards, but Leone was wide-right on a 34-yard field-goal attempt, which began perhaps Maryland's best 11 minutes of the season.
The Terps coasted 80 yards in nine plays, including a key 24-yard toss from Milanovich to Weaver on third-and-six from their 40. Five plays later, the short-yardage offense redeemed itself, as freshman Buddy Rodgers powered in from the 1 to put the Terps ahead with 12:06 left in the half.
Secondary reserves Angel Guerra and Lamont Gore made big stops on Georgia Tech's next possession, and the Terps' momentum grew on a 10-play drive that made it 14-3 with 7:29 remaining in the half.
Milanovich's shovel pass to redshirt freshman Brian Underwood went 15 yards to the Yellow Jackets' 13. Two plays later, Milanovich had nearly five seconds in the pocket, and that gave Jermaine Lewis enough time to come free in the back of the end zone for a 9-yard touchdown pass.
Seventy-six seconds later, Maryland appeared on the verge of breaking the game open when Rather intercepted Luginbill near midfield.
A swing pass to Allen Williams went 15 yards to Yellow Jackets' 31-yard line, but the Terps had some trickery blow up in their face. Milanovich threw a quick strike to Simon, who then reversed field and pitched to Lewis behind the line for a double reverse. Attempting to cut back at the 35, Lewis was stripped by linebacker Keith Brooking, who recovered on the 33.
Instead of going in for a 21-3 lead, the reverses had Maryland sweating to deny a Georgia Tech touchdown that would have trimmed the halftime lead to four points. A Terps offside penalty kept the drive alive, but Tech stalled after second-and-goal at the 4, and Leone kicked a 22-yard field goal 57 seconds before halftime.