The worry was evident on the Florida State sideline that night last month at Clemson. It could be seen in the hound-dog eyes of Seminoles coach Bobby Bowden and on the blank-stare faces of his players.
Well, maybe not all of his players.
There was a little less than 5 1/2 minutes remaining, and, with the Seminoles trailing 20-17, the fans in Death Valley were beginning to celebrate a victory over their new Atlantic Coast Conference rival.
But Charlie Ward, the Florida State quarterback, had plenty of time to get the Seminoles one more touchdown. What's 5 1/2 minutes when you've made big plays in fractions of seconds?
"We went down and did what we had to do," said Ward, who hit five straight passes in an eight-play, 77-yard drive that consumed a little more than two minutes and ended with a 9-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Knox.
Said Bowden: "I don't think we've ever gone down the field like that and scored in the last few minutes, but I don't think we've ever had anyone like Charlie before."
If this was something new for the Seminoles, it wasn't anything unusual for Ward. Around Tallahassee, he is known as a guy who makes big plays all the time. Against Louisville two years ago. Against North Carolina last year. The later the better.
But those plays came in Ward's other life as the point guard on Florida State's basketball team. Now, he's being asked to do the same thing for a football team that hasn't exactly earned a reputation for responding well in its biggest game -- against Miami.
"I don't want to have to make a living doing it," said Ward, a 6-foot-1, 190-pound junior from Thomasville, Ga. "But, when the time comes, you have to put everything together."
Ward certainly will have to do his part tomorrow at the Orange Bowl ifthe third-ranked Seminoles (4-0) are to beat their biggest nemesis, No. 2 Miami (3-0). The game, as has been the case for the past five years, will go far in determining the national champion.
For Florida State to have any chance to be around at the end -- of this game or this season, take your pick -- Ward will have to play better during the first three quarters than he did against the Tigers. In that game, Ward had four passes intercepted, one for a touchdown right before halftime.
"The first couple of games, I had to settle down, get my composure," said Ward, who has thrown only one interception in his past 74 passes after throwing eight in his first 57 attempts this season. "The last couple of games, I've been making better reads and throwing the ball better."
rTC Ward quickly is gaining the same reputation as a quarterback among ACC football coaches as he did among basketball coaches: frighteningly quick, a big playmaker with the ability to hit the long shot. Uh, pass.
"He's just an excellent athlete," Wake Forest coach Bill Dooley said yesterday. "He's the kind of guy who helps your offense's versatility because he can run and throw."
Said Ward, the first black to start at quarterback for Florida State: "What people tend to think about black quarterbacks is that they're just athletes. They might say you have a strong arm, but it's inaccurate. There's a lot of guys like Randall [Cunningham] and Warren Moon who have shown they can throw the ball."
Ward's arm certainly has made an impression during the Miami film sessions this week. Hurricanes coach Dennis Erickson said Ward has "a big-time arm." And Miami cornerback Ryan McNeil said, "He's the Randall Cunningham of college football."
How quickly Ward has adjusted to his starting role surprises some, but not those who have watched him on the basketball court. Two years ago, as a freshman, Ward hit a three-point shot to beat Louisville for the Metro Conference championship.
Last year, Ward was a stabilizing factor on a Seminoles team that surprised the ACC by finishing second to Duke and beating North Carolina twice in the regular season. Ward's shoulder injury early in the NCAA Tournament played a role in the team's subsequent defeat to Indiana in the Sweet 16.
"I've never been around a kid that's so confident, but who doesn't think he's anything special," said Florida State basketball coach Pat Kennedy, who hopes to have Ward back on the basketball court Jan. 2.
In that sense, Ward is unique for a Florida State athlete who excels at two sports. Compared with Deion Sanders and Terrell Buckley -- the latter referred to himself as "the Jim Thorpe of the second half of this century" -- Ward is almost mute.
"He's never been one to talk," said his father, Charlie Sr., who coached his son in both sports in Thomasville. "I'm the one who loves to talk."
Said the younger Ward: "Everyone has their type of image. I just don't talk."
But he wins. Not only in football and basketball, but also in campus politics. Already active in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Ward was elected student body vice president last spring. In this case, he has no aspirations for the No. 1 job.
"You've got to speak in front of the public too much," said Ward.
That's a lot more worrisome to Ward than playing at Death Valley. Or in the Orange Bowl.