MIAMI -- A year ago, Dan Mowrey played bodyguard for Gerry Thomas after his teammate narrowly missed a 34-yard field goal in the waning moments of Florida State's 17-16 defeat to Miami.
It was a class move, considering that Mowrey had lost his job to Thomas after blowing some kicks, but not games, earlier in the season. "He's a friend," Mowrey said at the time.
Yesterday, nobody shielded Mowrey after he badly missed a 39-yard field goal with three seconds left that would have tied second-ranked Miami. Instead, the third-ranked Seminoles lost, 19-16.
"I wasn't intimidated, I felt fine," said Mowrey, whose shanked kick missed by several feet. "It just didn't happen."
Mowrey was nearly one of the heroes for Florida State. After getting his first field goal attempt blocked, and missing his second, Mowrey made a 22-yarder shortly before halftime to tie the score at 10-10, a 28-yarder to give the Seminoles a 13-10 lead late in the third quarter and a 41-yarder with 9:05 remaining to put Florida State ahead 16-10.
Then came the kick that would have tied the game.
It was the kind of kick that Mowrey had made only a handful times in high school, but had never been asked to make before at Florida State. After losing his job to Thomas, Mowrey regained it when Thomas quit the team in the middle of August.
"As soon as I hit it, I knew it wasn't good," said Mowrey, who was five of eight on field goals coming into the game. "It was tough. Last year it was him (Thomas). This year it was me."
But Mowrey was certainly not chiefly responsible for yesterday's defeat, the Seminoles' third straight to Miami and the seventh in eight games. Two of their starting defensive backs, Clifton Abraham and Corey Sawyer, played even bigger parts.
It was Abraham who got beat by Miami receiver Lamar Thomas on a 33-yard pass that put the Hurricanes ahead, 17-16, with 6:50 remaining. And it was Sawyer who misplayed a punt return into a Miami safety with 2:59 to go that put the Hurricanes ahead by three.
"I knew I had him, the ball just sailed right over my hands," said Abraham, a sophomore.
"I don't know what it is. They're living right. We're not. I know it's a 60-minute game, but I feel like I just cost the team the national championship."
The defeat likely cost the Seminoles and Bowden another
chance at a national championship. But unlike last season's 17-16 defeat to the Hurricanes in Tallahassee, which came with Florida State 9-0 and No. 1, there is a consolation prize this time.
Though it might not seem like much, Bowden and the Seminoles talked after yesterday's defeat about winning the Atlantic Coast Conference championship.
Florida State is currently 4-0 in the ACC in its debut season, and tied for first with Virginia. The two teams will meet Oct. 31 in Charlottesville.
"It's a lot easier than last year," said Bowden, whose team lost to Florida two weeks after last year's defeat to Miami. "There's no ducking our heads. You just have to pick up the pieces and go back to work."
But the mounting losses to Miami seem to have taken their effect on the Seminoles.
Once more, they knew how close they came to ending the Hurricanes' winning streak -- over them and the rest of the country.
"It's very frustrating," said junior cornerback Corey Fuller, who blocked a field goal and tipped away an apparent touchdown pass early in the game. "We just didn't make plays at the right time and we made mistakes at the wrong time."
Someone reminded Fuller of the first quarter, when Florida State failed to build on a 7-0 lead after Tamarick Vanover's 94-yard touchdown return on the opening kickoff. The Seminoles were in Miami territory on each of their next three possessions, and came up empty.
"You've got to take the opportunities when they come," said Fuller. "Life is opportunity. You never know when it's your turn. You never know when your number is going to be called."
The only number called yesterday belonged to Miami. It had Florida State written all over it.