Coach Mark Duffner stood on a podium and refused to bite when asked if it was the Terps' biggest victory in their four years under his guidance. He muttered "Yeah, uh, a lot of games to go," but didn't have to answer the question.
The facts spoke for themselves.
Maryland is 2-0 for the first time since 1990, the only season in the last nine it had a winning record and went to a bowl game. A season-opening win over Tulane was nice, but beating North Carolina, which had turned back the Terps five straight, become a bowl regular and was ranked No. 20 in the preseason, sent a much clearer signal about their progress.
"I'll say it," said Jermaine Lewis, the senior wide receiver who is the premier player from Duffner's first recruiting class. "This is definitely our biggest win since I got here. Before, it was a lot of talk. Now, we're talking it and feeling it."
The predominant feeling for Maryland was numbness in the first 24 minutes, when the Terps fell behind 10-0.
North Carolina had a 163-11 advantage in yards gained. Brian Cummings, the Terps quarterback whose tender ankle limited his practice time last week, looked like he belonged in a recliner. Mike Settles, the defensive captain, sprained an ankle in the first quarter and never returned.
The Terps, however, bounced back with a variety of resources to outscore North Carolina 32-8 the rest of the way in their Atlantic Coast Conference opener and add to a festive air at renovated Byrd Stadium, where a few thousand of the 32,215 climbed into the new upper deck.
There was smash-mouth football in the form of a pivotal 75-yard drive that got the Terps on the scoreboard and a nasty pass rush that rattled Tar Heels quarterback Mike Thomas into four interceptions.
There was the finesse of Lewis, who celebrated his return with six catches for 108 yards, including a 40-yarder that set up the go-ahead touchdown.
There was solid special teams play, as junior Joe O'Donnell kicked a career-best 45-yard field goal and kept the Tar Heels pinned deep in their own territory with his kickoffs.
There was trickery, as back Buddy Rodgers ran for two points off a fake point-after kick and later took a pitch from Cummings and threw a 32-yard touchdown pass to Mancel Johnson.
There was also intelligence, the last ingredient that allowed Maryland to overcome a 454-283 deficit in total offense. The Tar Heels were penalized 10 times for 72 yards, but all five of the flags dropped on Maryland were for procedure. North Carolina had five turnovers, and for the second straight week, the Terps had none.
"Football is a very simple game, " said North Carolina coach Mack Brown, who endured a similar scenario in a season-opening loss to Syracuse. "Don't turn the ball over."
North Carolina (0-2) followed that formula to its 10-0 lead, as the Terps had no answer for tailbacks Jonathan Linton and Leon Johnson, who combined for 171 rushing yards.
Maryland struggled early, as Cummings, the redshirt sophomore who left the Tulane game with a sprained ankle in the first quarter, started over Orlando Strozier but clearly was uncomfortable making lateral cuts. Both are more prominent in the game plan while Scott Milanovich serves a four-game gambling suspension.
On the Terps' fourth possession, offensive coordinator Dan Dorazio opted for more quick-hitting plays and Rodgers perked up, as he carried seven times for 44 yards during a 75-yard drive that ended with his 2-yard touchdown run with 1:54 left in the half.
North Carolina needed 87 seconds to move to the Terps' 25-yard line, but then Thomas struggled.
He looked for flanker L. C. Stevens in the left corner of the end zone, but Andreal Johnson was there to begin the deluge of Tar Heels turnovers with his first of two interceptions with 17 seconds left in the half.
"We knew right then that we were going to win," Cummings said.
The feeling grew on the first snap of the second half, when defensive tackle Johnnie Hicks, who was supposed to be done with a pinched nerve, decked Thomas just as he was floating an ill-advised pass to junior linebacker Ratcliff Thomas.
Maryland settled for O'Donnell's booming field goal, off a low snap that Cummings handled perfectly. It was 10-10, but momentum was clearly on Maryland's side.
Linebacker Brett White was the recipient of Thomas's next interception at midfield, and one play later Maryland had its first lead. Cummings froze the secondary with a play-action fake, and Mancel Johnson was alone at the 15 when he hauled in his first touchdown pass, which covered 50 yards.
North Carolina forced an 18-18 tie with an 80-yard drive that ended with Linton's 22-yard run with 3:46 to go in the third quarter.
Cummings passed to Lewis for 27 and 40 yards, and the short-yardage offense got the go-ahead touchdown from Strozier from the 1 with 3:11 left in the third quarter. Two possessions later, Mancel Johnson turned Rodgers' first pass as a collegian into the Terps' fourth touchdown, and the defense shut the Tar Heels down.
The last turnover came from Andreal Johnson, as he stripped Octavus Barnes on a slant with five minutes left. That play illustrated the growth of the Terps, as Johnson was one of the true freshmen who was burned by the Tar Heels for 59 points and 714 yards in Chapel Hill two years ago.
"I hadn't forgotten that, but this is different," Johnson said. "Different day, different team."
NEXT FOR MARYLAND
Opponent: West Virginia
Site: Byrd Stadium, College Park
When: Saturday, 7 p.m.
.' Yesterday: Beat Temple, 24-13.
Sophomore quarterback Curtis McCoy rushes for 273 yards and rolls up a Navy-record 398 yards of total offense in the Mids' 33-2 win over SMU to open the season. 19D
Towson State 34 Butler 3
B.-Cookman 33 Morgan 10
W. Maryland 36 Juniata 10
No. 1 Fla. St. 45 Clemson 26
No. 2 Neb. 50 Mich. State 10
No. 4 Penn St. 24 Texas Tech 23
6 Auburn 76 UT-Chatt. 10
No. 16 Va. 29 No. 23 N.C. St. 24
No. 17 Ariz. 20 Ga. Tech 19
Bos. Coll. 20 No. 20 Va. Tech 14