After all he has been through this season, the miniature statue Stan Gelbaugh held for winning the Cherry Bowl's most valuable offensive player award must have felt like the Heisman Trophy.
Maryland played good defense when it had to, and the Terrapins' offensive line did yeoman's work against a usually brutish Syracuse pass rush. But Maryland's 35-18 victory today was highlighted throughout by the accurate passing of Gelbaugh.
He completed 14 of 20 passes for 223 yards and two touchdowns and accounted for a third touchdown with a four-yard run.
"All those people who sat behind the Maryland bench and booed Stan this year should get one big apology card and send it to him," said Maryland offensive tackle Tony Edwards. "I love Stan. He shut them up today."
The victory enabled 20th-ranked Maryland to finish 9-3 for the second straight year and dropped Syracuse to 7-5.
"I was capable of playing this way earlier," Gelbaugh said, "but for one reason or another I didn't. But I've worked my butt off. I couldn't feel any better than I do right now."
Maryland trailed twice in the first half but rolled up 467 yards total offense against a Syracuse defense rated one of the best in the nation coming into the game.
Many of the Maryland players expressed disappointment that the crowd here in the Silverdome wasn't larger. It was bad enough that the paid attendance was 51,858, which is 9,000 fewer than the Cherry Bowl committee said it had sold a month ago. But even worse, only about 30,000 showed up.
"It's their loss," Gelbaugh said. "This was an exciting, well-played game."
The only reason Gelbaugh didn't throw for more than 300 yards is that the Maryland rushing attack produced 244 yards, three times the average number of yards Syracuse had given up on the ground in the regular season. Even Maryland Coach Bobby Ross said, "I did not think we'd be able to move the ball quite as well as we did."
Alvin Blount led Maryland with 132 yards rushing in 24 carries, and Tommy Neal had 50 yards in only four carries.
Syracuse Coach Dick MacPherson, whose defense had given up as many as 200 rushing yards only once this season, said, "If we can't stop 'em, nobody can."
Equally surprising, for both teams, was that the Syracuse pass rushers, including two-time all-America tackle Tim Green, never got to Gelbaugh. "No sacks -- that's amazing," Ross said. "We thought this was a hell of a pass-rushing team."
The credit for stopping Green goes primarily to Maryland's Edwards, who played magnificently. And when Green lined up elsewhere, guard Len Lynch was there to keep him away from Gelbaugh.
Syracuse played better offensively than most people would have expected. Sophomore Donnie McPherson, one of the nation's quarterbacks of the future, rushed 21 times for 111 yards and completed 18 of 30 passes for 204 yards.
But McPherson's three interceptions and a fumbled punt by Scott Schwedes, which produced an eight-yard touchdown run by Maryland defensive tackle Scott Tye, helped unravel Syracuse.
Syracuse came out and shocked Maryland by abandoning its option game for a toss-sweep attack.
Cornerback Donald Brown, who had an interception in the end zone, said after the game that Syracuse had opened all 11 of its regular-season games with a dive-play up the middle. So the Terrapins went with a blitz in the middle.
Instead, on the first play from scrimmage, Syracuse went to Robert Drummond for 19 yards on a pitch right. The Orangemen went right down the field to the Maryland four-yard line before the Terrapins' defensive coaches made the proper adjustments and forced Syracuse to settle for a 26-yard field goal.
Maryland took a 6-3 lead (Dan Plocki's point-after kick failed) when Gelbaugh scored from four yards out. But Syracuse took the lead back, 10-6, when Drummond scored from the 10 on a trap play early in the second quarter.
Gelbaugh started the next drive by passing to Ferrell Edmunds for 35 yards to the Syracuse 44. After a three-yard loss, Gelbaugh hit Eric Holder for 18 yards, putting Maryland inside the Syracuse 30.
Blount ran for 25 yards on the next three plays, and Gelbaugh finished the drive with a four-yard touchdown pass to Chris Knight. Rick Badanjek's two-point conversion run made it 14-10.
Gelbaugh, at that point, was six for six for 108 yards and had accounted for both touchdowns.
The Maryland offense wasn't so overpowering the next time it got the ball, after an interception by linebacker Scott Schankweiler, the game's defensive MVP. But Darryl Wright's 50-yard punt was high enough to allow Tye and Schankweiler to get downfield in a hurry.
Schwedes, the nation's third-leading punt returner, caught the ball at his 10 but was spun around by Tye. Schankweiler delivered the second hit, and the ball popped straight in the air to Tye, who ran eight yards for his first touchdown in approximately 14 years of organized football.
Tye was so busy being mobbed by his teammates (and probably a little out of breath) that Maryland had to call timeout because he is also the snapper for the extra point, which made it 21-10 with just more than three minutes left in the first half.
"I've been playing football since I was 8 and this is the first time I've ever scored," Tye said. "Anyone who was standing there would have caught the thing and scored. If I never play football again, this will stick with me.
"I was thinking about spiking the ball, but that would really have upset the coaches, and I respect them too much for that, even if I am a senior and there was little they could do to me," he said, smiling. "I was thinking last night about scoring a touchdown, but I was wondering how I'd even get the ball."
Keeta Covington, who had one interception and a great game covering Schwedes, stripped McPherson of the ball to end the next Syracuse possession. Shortly thereafter, Blount ran 20 yards, including two beautiful cutbacks, for the touchdown that made it 28-10 two minutes before halftime.
Gelbaugh's six-yard touchdown pass to Azizuddin Abdur-Ra'oof -- who for the 24th consecutive game caught at least one pass, breaking John Tice's school record -- made it 35-10 at the start of the second half and basically ended the suspense.
Gelbaugh threw one third-quarter interception, "but other than that," Ross said, "he played as close to a perfect game as you could possibly play."
Gelbaugh had no complaints. "Going back home 9-3 is a lot better than 8-4," he said. "A whole lot better."