Syracuse was reeling under an avalanche of penalties in its home opener and the Orange were facing fourth-and-goal at the Maine 4 in the final minute of the first half, trailing the Black Bears for the second straight year.
After two timeouts, Syracuse coach Doug Marrone decided to go for it, and a nifty pass on the run by Ryan Nassib to a diving Jose Cruz gave the Orange a 14-10 lead, one they never relinquished.
"I'm just happy he gave me the ball," Nassib said.
No reason not to on this night.
With Syracuse's receivers breaking free left and right, Nassib threw a school-record five touchdown passes and the Orange pulled away in the second half to beat Maine 38-14 on Saturday night.
"No matter what the score was or how the first half went, Ryan came out as confident as he could be," said Cruz, a transfer from Hofstra. "He did the job."
Nassib, in just his third career start, was 19-for-28 for 260 yards as the Orange (2-1) took control in the third quarter just as they did a year ago against Maine (1-2), a member of the Football Championship Subdivision.
Those 10 Syracuse penalties in the first half faded a little bit in the postgame celebration.
"We're not that type of football team," Marrone said. "We're a disciplined football team that knows how to play this game."
Van Chew had seven catches for 113 yards and one TD, Alec Lemon had five catches for 58 yards and two scores, and tight ends Jose Cruz and Nick Provo each caught a touchdown pass.
Warren Smith scored on a 10-yard run and threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to Justin Perrillo for Maine, but he lost two critical fumbles that Syracuse converted into touchdowns. Smith finished 20-for-27 for 127 yards before departing in the fourth quarter after a hard hit.
This was the seventh straight year the Black Bears played a BCS team, and they had a win to show for their efforts, 9-7 over Mississippi State in 2004.
The Black Bears led last year's game against Syracuse 17-13 at the half after successfully executing a pair of fake punts and two onside kicks, and seemed set to pull off another stunner for Division I's second tier.
Despite some early trickery and an early lead, Maine was overwhelmed in the decisive third quarter. After playing the Orange dead-even statistically in the first half, the Black Bears failed to gain a first down in the third period and lost 7 yards rushing as Smith had only 15 yards passing.
"We got our butts kicked. I'm very disappointed by our performance in the second half," Maine coach Jack Cosgrove said. "Embarrassed how poorly we executed on both sides of the ball."
Nassib continued to take advantage of several blown coverages in the secondary by the Maine defense. The mistakes helped offset plenty by the Orange, who were called for 14 penalties for 111 yards.
Nassib hit Lemon all alone at the 2-yard line for a 20-yard score with 5:16 left in the third quarter, then connected for another 20-yard score to Provo in the final minute of the period for a 31-14 lead.
"He (Marrone) just told us to relax (at halftime)," Chew said. "In the first half, we were making a lot of silly mistakes, but he told us to relax, and in the second half we picked it up. I think we were just nervous because it was our home opener."
After Chandler Jones forced a fumble by Smith at the start of the final quarter, Nassib hit Chew for a 21-yard score on the next play for the game's final points.
A year ago, Maine tried to beat Syracuse through the air as Smith passed for 305 yards and three touchdowns. Facing a third-and-goal from the Syracuse 10 early in this one, Smith kept it on the ground, scoring untouched on a quarterback draw up the middle for a 7-0 lead with 4:25 left in the first.
Nassib hit a wide-open Lemon in the right corner of the end zone to tie it at 7 early in the second quarter.
The Syracuse defense got a little too fired-up when Maine got the ball back. Phillip Thomas was called for a 15-yard penalty for taunting. Four plays later, Smith hit a wide-open Perrillo in the left corner of the end zone for a 14-7 lead.
Ross Krautman's 32-yard field goal narrowed the Maine lead to 14-10 and Syracuse struck again in the final minute of the half after Smith lost a fumble at his own 24 to set up Cruz's critical catch, which was reviewed.
When the ruling on the field was upheld, Cosgrove yelled in dismay at the Big East officials calling the game as the Orange left the field with a 17-14 lead.