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Long before either joined the Big Ten, Maryland and Penn State played on a pretty regular basis.
Unfortunately for the Terrapins, the series was dominated by Penn State. The 1985 opener in College Park however, was expected to be a different story.
Maryland had rallied from 17 points down to take the lead. Unfortunately, a late fumble would ultimately doom the Terrapins in a 20-18 loss on this day 35 years ago.
Setting the Stage
After a strong finish to the 1984 season, Maryland began the 1985 campaign ranked No. 7 and received three first-place votes in the preseason. Maryland has closed the 1984 season on a 7-game winning streak, which included a comeback for the ages. The Terrapins won the ACC en route to a 9-3 record and top-15 finish in 1984.
Bobby Ross was beginning his fourth season as Maryland head coach while Penn State’s Joe Paterno was beginning his 20th. No. 18 Penn State had edged the Terrapins at Happy Valley the year prior, 25-24, but endured a disappointing 6-5 season. As the teams met on Sept. 7, 1985, Penn State had won 20 straight in the series.
A Strong Start
Things couldn’t have gone much better for Penn State to begin the contest. Penn State raced to a 17-0 lead. The scoring started on the game’s second play when safety Mike Zordich returned an interception thrown by Maryland quarterback Stan Gelbaugh 32 yards for a touchdown.
The Nittany Lions added to their lead on a field goal by Massimo Manca before finding the end zone again early in the second quarter. John Shaffer capped an 80-yard drive with a short scoring strike to Bob Williams.
The Terrapins were no stranger to coming from behind. The year prior, Maryland erased a 31-0 deficit at Miami before rallying for a 42-40 win.
By the time that halftime rolled around, Maryland was down just a touchdown to the Nittany Lions. After a field goal by Ramon Paredes got the Terrapins on the board, Rick Badanjek scored from eight yards out following a Penn State turnover. Maryland took its first lead in the third quarter when Badanjek scored a 5-yard touchdown, which was followed by a successful 2-point conversion.
Penn State used a 46-yard field goal from Manca to regain the lead before the third quarter had ended. The final period would be one of missed opportunities for Maryland.
After Paredes missed field goal attempts of 34 and 51 yards in the final quarter, Maryland mounted one last drive. A possession that started inside Maryland’s own 25-yard-line with 84 seconds to go ended inside Penn State’s 25.
The drive started with a nice pass play from Gelbaugh to Azizuddin Abdur-Ra’oof that moved the ball into Penn State territory. Badanjek then carried to the near the Penn State 30-yard-line. Following an incomplete pass, Gelbaugh found Alvin Blount, who ran inside the 25-yard-line, seemingly putting the Terrapins in field goal range.
But Blount had forgot one thing — the football. As he made his way to the 22-yard-line, the ball popped loose and Penn State recovered with 38 seconds remaining. The Nittany Lions proceeded to run out the clock.
The heartbreaking loss served as a huge blow to Maryland, which would finish 9-3 for a second straight year. Maryland would finish 0-3 against ranked teams in 1985, also falling to Michigan and Miami. The Terrapins however, would win the ACC for a third straight season. They capped the year with a 35-18 victory over Syracuse in the Cherry Bowl to finish ranked in the top 20.
Penn State’s win served as its 21st in a row over Maryland and began a perfect regular season. The Nittany Lions would go 11-0 and ascend to No. 1 in the polls before falling to Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl.
Penn State however, would win the national championship the following year and enjoy a streak of 23 straight regular season wins. That streak began with a thriller in College Park that happened on this day 35 years ago.