Maryland's roller coaster football season ended tonight with a crash.
Trailing 20-14 midway through the third quarter, Florida came up with two touchdowns in a 74 second span, then drove 51 yards early in the fourth quarter for an insurance touchdown and cruised to a 35-20 victory in front of a record Tangerine Bowl crowd of 52,541.
The heroes for Florida (8-4) were freshman quarterback Wayne Peace, and senior flanker Cris Collinsworth. The latter was named the game's most valuable player. Peace completed 20 of 34 passes for 171 yards, two of them for touchdowns to Collinsworth. He also sneaked over from a yard out for what proved to be the winning touchdown.
Collinsworth, a 6-foot-4 all-American both as a student and a football player, caught eight passes for 166 yards, the two touchdowns and set up two other scores with catches at the one- and two-yard lines.
That more than offset Maryland tailback Charlie Wysocki's 159 yards on 39 carries partly because the Terp offense lost the ball four times in the second half and partly because it had to settle for field goals by Dale Castro four times after driving to the 15, 11, 10 and 25 yard lines. The only touchdown for Maryland (8-4) was a one-yard dive by Wysocki 12 seconds into the third quarter after a Ralph Lary interception put the ball at the one.
"We just made too many stupid mistakes," said defensive guard Marlin Van Horn. "We gave them easy touchdowns and didn't make them drive the ball to score. That hurt."
Throughout the night Peace evaded the Maryland rush, often scrambling while his receivers free lanced and got open. "Collinsworth's performance was very big, no doubt about it," Florida Coach Charley Pell said. "But the job our offensive line did might have been bigger. They pressured our quarterback all night but they never sacked him."
Sadly, the key play was a mistake by Wysocki, the man who had as much to do with Maryland's five game winning streak which brought it here as anyone. Peace had sneaked in from one yard out with 4:43 left in the third quarter to put Florida up 21-20, the touchdown set up by a 28 yard pass to Collinsworth that put the ball on the one.
On the ensuing kickoff Bob Larkin was called for clipping and the Terps started at their own nine. That quickly became the four when Bob Gioia was called for illegal procedure.
Immediately, Wysocki appeared to have the Terps out of the hole, bursting up the right side to the 18. But he was hit from behind by Sonny Gilliam and the ball popped loose. Nose guard John Whittaker got to the ball first and when the officials, uniformly unsure of themselves all night long, finally figured out who had it, Florida was in possession at the Maryland 23.
"You have to accept defeat as well as victory," Wysocki said, trying to be philosophical. "But I'm mad at myself for the crucial fumble. I have to take the blame. I was trying to go three directions at once and the defensive back hit me from behind. I gave them a touchdown."
Not quite. But the fumble certainly set up Peace's gorgeous 21 yard strike to Collinsworth. In some ways the score typified the frustration of the Maryland defense all night. Peace was rushed and scrambled out of the pocket. Collinsworth, seeing his quarterback in trouble, broke his pattern, slipped between Lary and Lloyd Burruss and caught the ball seven yards deep in the end zone.
That score, with 3:29 left in the third quarter, made it 28-20 and seemed to take a good deal of steam out of the Terps. Until then the game had been on a seesaw, the Terps leading 3-0 early, then dropping behind 7-3 on Peace's 24 yard pass to Collinsworth early in the second quarter.
Then Maryland came back with two more Castro field goals to lead 9-7 before Peace hit Collinsworth for 33 yards setting up a two yard James Jones plunge for a 14-9 lead at the half.
That lasted exactly 12 seconds into the second half. On the kickoff, Gators Roger Sibbald and Curt Garrett fought over the ball, fumbled, then recovered in the four. On the first play, Peace threw right to Lary at the 15 and he made it to the one setting up the Wysociki score and a Mike Tice two point conversion for a 17-14 lead.
A short Florida punt set up Castro's last field goal, from 42 yards with 10 minutes left in the quarter giving Maryland a 20-14 lead. But the Gators drove 81 yards to Peace's sneak on third and inches for the lead.
Not containing Peace and Collinsworth certainly hurt the defense, but the offense's mistakes gave them an almost impossible job under any circumstances. After wysocki's fumble had set up the Collinsworth touchdown, the Terps tried to come back, moving to Gator 44 early in the fourth quarter.
But there, on the first down, Tice was hit by Whittaker as he tried to throw to Jan Carinci on the run. The wobbling ball ended up right in the arms of defensive end Tim Golden who was tacked at the 49.
From there, the Gators went 51 yards on 10 plays, picking up yardage on the ground for the first time in the game. The drive culminated in a two yard swan dive by Johnell Brown, making it 35-20 with 9:31 left.
The season was over for the Terps. Claiborne tried Brent Dewitz and Bob Milkovich at quarterback to no avail.
Thus, the season that reached a nadir with three straight midseason losses and a high with a gala week here, ended bitterly for Claiborne and for his 21 seniors.
"This ruins the whole week," Tice said. "I just hate to go out this way." With those words, Tice spoke for everyone in the tiny, somber locker room.