MOSCOW -- In a thrilling last-minute drive, quarterback Pavel Cherniavsky marched his Russian all-stars downfield, with one quick pass after another, finally connecting in the end zone for his team's first score on the game's next-to-last play.
For a moment, you could almost forget that his opponents -- the Green Terrors of Western Maryland College -- had scored 47 points in the previous 59 minutes.
The crowd went wild. The organ boomed. The extra-point try succeeded.
"Well, we had to score at least one touchdown," a somewhat-less-than-exultant Cherniavsky said after the game last night. "How do I feel? The score will tell you."
The Western Maryland football team had come to Moscow to show off the American game, and at 47-7 it was a learning experience for the collection of Russian players cobbled together from the fledgling Euro-Asiatic League of American Football.
"It was an enormous lesson," Cherniavsky said. "First, we have to work much, much harder."
The game was held in a large, gleaming indoor arena (punts that bounce off the ceiling don't count), and it attracted a crowd of about 2,000, most of whom proved to be die-hard football fans.
American football started here 3 1/2 years ago, and the fans were more knowledgeable and more vituperative than might have been expected.
At the end of the first half, for instance, in a typical series of Russian plays, the home team ran a kickoff back 40 yards to the Western Maryland 42. This was the deepest the Russians had penetrated, and the crowd began cheering and screaming.
The next play was an incomplete pass, and the cheers immediately turned to derisive whistles. Whatever their desired effect was, the next play was an interception and the wee Russian threat had evaporated.
"The Russians are not playing very well," Viktor Novikov, the father of center Sergei Novikov, said a few minutes later. "I invited my friend, and I'm somewhat ashamed."
But then he brightened.
"We'll lose today, but in a year and a half, we'll win 10 times over," he said. "Football will be popular here because Russians do well in sports that use force."
"Football is a marvelous game," said Isabella Novruzova, 18, whose boyfriend, Yuri Volkov, is an offensive lineman. "It's a pity it's not well-developed here. Of course, we would like the Russians to win, but it's a pleasure just to observe the Americans as well."
Dale Sprague, the Western Maryland coach, said after the game that his team's passing attack was off but that its running game went well.
"We played against a class bunch of gentlemen," he said.
Western Maryland is the first college team to play here. The Division III team had a 5-5 record in 1991, but made the big Russians anxious.
Cherniavsky said he hadn't slept for three nights before the game, trying to absorb the lessons imparted by John Ralston, a former Denver Broncos coach imported to help pull the Russians together.
"He's the best quarterback they've got, but he got awfully rattled in the beginning," Ralston said afterward. "And, anyway, that's not the answer, to bring teams over here and blow their brains out. Somebody's got to take time and teach them from the bottom up.
"But I think a lot of that running back," he added, referring to Maxim Khramchenko, a 21-year-old former decathlon star, who plays for the Moscow Swans. "He could play college ball. He ought to come over to the U.S. and do it, and then come back here and teach."