Lightning Strike

By John Antonik for MSNsportsNET.com

COLLEGE PARK, MD. (September 15, 1973) -- In reality, West Virginia's season-opening game at Maryland was one that neither team should have won.

  Danny Buggs' 69-yard punt return stunned Maryland in College Park. (WVU Sports Communications)

For the most part, it was a contest that possessed the excitement of a Saturday evening game of bingo.

It had more defense than the Normandy invasion, more goofups than a kindergarten dance recital, and just enough suspense to keep you awake.

Certainly it wasn't supposed to be a game for the ages. Ten of Maryland's 13 points were the direct result of West Virginia mistakes, and in the case of the Terrapins' only touchdown, it took them three tries to get it in from the one.

West Virginia was breaking in a new quarterback in Ade Dillon, and the Appleton, Wis., native had his troubles. Midway through the third quarter Dillon had completed just seven-of-15 passes for 95 yards.

He had thrown short, under and behind receivers most of the afternoon. When he wasn't missing open targets, he bobbled five handoffs that resulted in four fumbles.

Maryland could do little better. It had managed just 104 yards in a scoreless first half that West Virginia led 6-0 on two field goals by Frank Nestor.

Two three-pointers by Steve Mike-Mayer tied the score 6-6 midway through the third quarter.

Then Maryland's big break came early in the fourth quarter when a bad snap sailed over punter Chuck Brooks' head and was recovered at the West Virginia goal line. After two quarterback sneaks, Terrapin backup tailback Louis Carter jumped over the pile for the score.

On West Virginia's first play after the touchdown, Dillon was looking to get the ball to All-America flanker Danny Buggs over the middle. Out of nowhere Dwayne Woods stepped in front of the pass, nabbed the ball, and raced 75 yards for a touchdown. A fluke catch and the game was tied at 13!

Maryland, under second-year coach Jerry Claiborne, planned to eat the clock and move into field goal position to win the game. This conservative strategy would serve Claiborne well at Maryland. His teams won 77 games in a span of 10 years from 1972-81.

Claiborne took Maryland to six straight bowl games between 1973-78 including a Peach Bowl berth against Georgia later that year. His tactics were straight from the book.

With just 5:16 left on the clock, the coach called four straight running plays and advanced the football to the 30. Maryland got to the 45 before three straight losses put the football back to the 29.

Faced with a fourth-and-26 with 36 seconds left on the clock, Claiborne had no choice but to punt the football back to West Virginia.

Standing 40 yards down field was Danny Buggs. Up to that point he had done next to nothing. He was nailed for an eight-yard loss on a flanker reverse and managed just one catch for 20 yards. Buggs' teammate intercepted his other opportunity and turned that into a 75-yard TD in the third quarter.

Despite the lackluster game, there was the very real chance that Buggs could explode.

After all, as a sophomore, the Atlanta, Ga., native averaged 20 yards every time he touched the football. One in every five times he scored a touchdown -- whether on a pass, a flanker reverse, a kick or a punt.

The creative Bobby Bowden kept coming up with new ways to get the football into Buggs' hands.

After scoring on a long flanker reverse against Syracuse in 1972, Orange coach Ben Schwartzwalder called Buggs "the most spectacular sophomore I've ever coached against."

He was also a world class sprinter who could cover sixty yards in a scant six seconds. That was certainly much less than the 36 seconds showing on the clock.

Running through Bowden's mind was how to get the football into a reasonable spot for a field goal attempt. "Maybe Buggs can get the ball past midfield and we can get into Nestor's range to kick it," Bowden must have thought.

Punter Phil Wagenhein's boot took Buggs back to the 31 with six redshirted Terps barreling down on him. Buggs set sail to his left, was boxed in after a couple of steps and retreated to his right. After the 180-degree turn, he found an alley and zipped up the right sideline like lightning!

Danny swerved back to the middle of the field and was gone. He was still distancing himself from Maryland defenders when he crossed the goal line 69 yards later. The return spanned 85 yards (including the distance he gave way) and took 24 seconds to complete.

West Virginia won the game, 20-13.

"The team thinks they've got you under cover, then you break it on them," said Buggs later.

Buggs got his one chance and he did what all great players do -- he won the game.

"He's pure and simple a game-breaker," said Bowden. "At any time, from any place on the field he can score. You can plot and scheme, but there's no way you can prepare a team to stop an individual like that."

Said Maryland's shell-shocked Claiborne: "He is just as good as we were afraid he would be."

Buggs was at least good enough to make an otherwise so-so game one for the ages.

Scoring Summary

WV – Nester 35 FG
WV – Nester 33 FG
MD – Mike-Mayer 43 FG
MD – Mike-Mayer 48 FG
MD – Carter 1 run (Mike-Mayer kick)
WV – Woods 75 pass from Dillon (Nester kick)
WV – Buggs 69 punt return (Nester kick)

Statistical Summary

Rushing: WV – Nelson 7-11, Woods 25-71, Dillon 5-minus 8, Buggs 1-minus 8, Owens 2-2, Brooks 1-35, Team 1-minus 30, Total 42-73 ; MD – Hinkle 1-minus 4, Carter 20-72, Schultz 3-7, Avellini 5-17, Kinard 7-12, Wagenheim 1-minus 11, Jennings 16-43, Brancato 1-minus 2, Neville 4-minus 13, Total 59-121.

Passing: WV – Dillon 8-16-2-170-1; MD – Avellini 3-7-1-40-0, Kinard 1-7-1-5-0, Neville 1-2-0-9-0, Total 5-16-2-54-0.

Receiving – WV: Mills 3-57, Jagdmann 3-21, Buggs 1-17, Woods 1-75, Total 8-170; MD – Weiss 1-12, Schutze 1-4, Carter 1-24, Brancato 1-5, Russell 1-9, Total 5-54.

Attendance: 35,112