MIAMI -- It was supposed to be the most competitive of all the bowl games. Bobby Bowden vs. Joe Paterno. Offensive mastermind against defensive genius. No. 6 against No. 7. Teams with identical records.
Oh, it was a competitive game, all right, but by the time Penn State figured out how to stop Florida State's offense last night, the Seminoles (10-2) had taken a 10-point halftime lead. They held on to defeat the Nittany Lions, 24-17, before 74,021 in the first Blockbuster Bowl, at Joe Robbie Stadium.
Penn State got a second-half spark from reserve quarterback Tom Bill, who replaced Tony Sacca with 7 minutes, 32 seconds left in the game and rallied the team with a 37-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Terry Smith 1:05 later to pull Penn State (9-3) within 24-17.
But Bill, who helped pull out victories over Alabama and West Virginia earlier this season in relief, was intercepted at the 2 from the Florida State 29 with 2:54 left in the game. Bill was hit by two Florida State defenders while releasing the ball.
The interception and the loss ended Penn State's already slim chances of winning a national championship.
"I said before the game a number of things had to happen for us to be in contention for the national championship, the first us beating Florida State," said Paterno, whose team yielded 157 yards of total offense in the second half after getting 243 in the first. "That didn't happen, but I think we still had a great season."
Meanwhile, Bowden said he didn't know where his team would finish in the final rankings.
"I would hope in the top three," said Bowden. "If the right people lose, this might be one of those years where no one deserves to win it."
Paterno, whose team lost to No. 3 Texas and beat No. 5 Notre Dame, said Florida State should be No. 1.
"There just isn't a better team in the country right now than Florida State," said Paterno. "They have so much depth and so much speed. Some of the things they were doing, when you're as good as they are and as fast as they are, if you're just a little bit out of whack, they make big plays out of it. It took us awhile to adjust to their speed."
Florida State scored on three of its first four possessions. Richie Andrews kicked a 41-yard field goal to give the Seminoles a 3-0 lead 4:13 into the game.
But the play that showed the dramatic difference in team speed came with 9:33 left in the first period. The Seminoles' Terrell Buckley took a punt at his 43 along the left sideline, retreated to his 29, then outran Penn State players down the right sideline for a 39-yard return to the Penn State 15.
Four plays later, Florida State fullback Amp Lee, the game's Most Valuable Player with 86 yards rushing on 21 carries, ran 1 yard off left tackle for a touchdown and a 10-0 Florida State lead.
Penn State pulled within 10-7 with 1:13 left in the half on a fluke play that saw Sacca throw a pass from his 44 through the hands of tight end Al Golden and a Florida State defenders and into the hands of split end David Daniels, who went the final 30 yards untouched to finish off the 56-yard touchdown.
"I thought that was the play that would spark our defense," said Penn State linebacker Keith Goganious.
It didn't. Back came Florida State. This time, quarterback Casey Weldon completed passes of 17 and 29 yards over the middle before Lee finished a seven-play, 70-yard drive with a 7-yard run around right end. The touchdown put Florida State ahead, 17-7, with 13:28 left in the second quarter, a margin the Seminoles kept until the half.
"Their linebackers were blowing out real fast trying to close off the passing lanes to our wide-outs," said Weldon. "They respected our wide receivers speed. Maybe they respected them too much."
Penn State had a chance at a field goal after Lee's second touchdown, but Fayak's 22-yard attempt was blocked by cornerback Tommy Henry on a rush up the middle.
"We had some opportunities early, and we didn't take advantage of them and never got close enough that we could play our football game," said Paterno, who favors a running attack.
But Paterno opened up the third period in a seldom-used one-back offensive set. The Nittany Lions pulled within 17-10 on a 32-yard field goal by Fayak midway in the second period.
But Penn State squib-kicked and Florida State got position at its 42. A 22-yard pass to wide receiver Lawrence Dawsey and a 25-yard reception by fullback Edgar Bennett helped put the Seminoles on the Penn State 5. On second-and-goal from the 5, Weldon scored on a bootleg to the right with 3:51 left in the third period to give Florida State a 24-10 lead.
Penn State 7 0 3 7 -- 17
Florida State 10 7 7 0 -- 24
FS--FG Andrews 41
FS--Lee 1 run (Andrews kick)
PS--Daniels 56 pass from Sacca (Fayak kick)
FS--Lee 7 run (Andrews kick)
PS--FG Fayak 32
FS--Weldon 5 run (Andrews kick)
PS--Smith 37 pass from Bill (Fayak kick)
First downs 17 19
Rushes-yards 31-122 39-152
Passing 278 248
Return Yards 91 45
Comp-Att-Int 15-32-3 22-36-2
Punts 6-36 7-38
Fumbles-Lost 2-2 0-0
Penalties-Yards 6-46 4-35
Time of Possession 26:13 33:47
RUSHING--Penn St., Brown 14-46, Thompson 8-33, Sacca 6-28, Smith 1-13, Bill 1-2, Fayak 1-0. Florida St., Lee 21-86, Bennett 9-30, Weldon 6-22, Moore 1-12, Jackson 1-2, Dawsey 1-0.
PASSING--Penn St., Sacca 12-25-2-194, Bill 3-7-1-84, Florida St., Weldon 22-36-2-248.
RECEIVING--Penn St., Daniels 7-154, Smith 5-100, Thompson 2-10, T.Thomas 1-14. Florida St., Dawsey 8-107, Lee 5-32, Bennett 4-49, R.Johnson 2-34, Baker 1-17, Roberts 1-6, Moore 1-3.