- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 23, 2007

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Wake Forest cornerback Alphonso Smith found himself stuck covering two Maryland receivers in the end zone late in the third quarter.

Remaining between the two turned out to be the perfect position for both him and the Demon Deacons — and the beginning of a monumental collapse for the Terrapins.

Smith set a school record with a 100-yard interception return for a touchdown with 1:10 left in the third quarter, a play that ignited a rally from a three-touchdown deficit to lift Wake Forest to a stunning 31-24 victory yesterday.

The Terrapins (2-2, 0-1 ACC) were just yards away from all but finishing off the defending conference champion Demon Deacons (2-2, 1-1). After wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey’s 54-yard reverse, Maryland had three chances to punch it in from the 3.

Tailback Lance Ball was stuffed, and a pass to tight end Dan Gronkowski fell incomplete.

Then Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen called one of his team’s two-point plays, and Jordan Steffy looked into the end zone for Ball. Smith was stuck between two receivers when safety Aaron Mason lined up in the wrong spot, and opted to sit back and wait.

It was wise. Steffy zipped it to Ball, and Smith stepped in front and turned a potential 31-3 Maryland lead into a 24-10 game.

“It was a dumb decision,” Steffy said. “I should have never thrown it to the flat. That’s all there is to it. They were man-to-man. The flat came open for a second but [Smith] is a good player. He jumped it.”

He also handled the return with aplomb, darting down Wake’s sideline with only two Terps to contend with. Steffy had an angle but was turned around and blocked, and receiver Danny Oquendo finally cut him off near the Maryland 5. But Smith juked Oquendo, then finished off the return to bring the Deacons within two scores.

“I could tell they were confused,” Friedgen said. “They were moving all around. They weren’t set, the clock was running down. I think Jordan saw a guy open and a guy buzzed out and made a play.”

Maryland is all-too-familiar with a game-changing — and potentially season-changing — turnover. Ask any of the holdovers from last year’s 9-4 season, and chances are they will mention the recovery of a muffed punt at Virginia as the moment that ignited a five-game winning streak and a charge to the Champs Sports Bowl.

The Terps’ task will be to ensure this play doesn’t have the reverse effect. Even if Steffy’s pass went incomplete, Maryland would have lined up Obi Egekeze for a 20-yard field goal on the next play. That kick, if converted, would have put the Terps up 24 with a little more than a quarter left.

Instead, the Demon Deacons capped two long drives with touchdowns in the fourth quarter, then dominated overtime to secure a game that seemed safely in the Terps’ control before goal-line interception.

“Definitely, but after the interception return for a touchdown, you kind of feel the momentum switching,” tailback Keon Lattimore said. “They score again after that and then again, and it’s kind of like ‘Oh man, we’re in for a long day.’ ”

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