Irish run through Florida State Time runs out on No. 1 Seminoles in 31-24 defeat THE BATTLE FOR NO. 1

November 14, 1993|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Staff Writer

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Notre Dame didn't need any of its storied mystique to upset top-ranked Florida State yesterday. It didn't need the luck of the Irish to fashion one of those last-minute miracles that are so much a part of the school's football tradition.

It just needed time to run out. After bludgeoning the Seminoles seemingly into submission, the second-ranked Fighting Irish withstood a wild fourth-quarter rally before escaping with a 31-24 victory at Notre Dame Stadium.

The victory, which gave Notre Dame the nation's longest Division I-A winning streak at 17 games, was finally secured when cornerback Shawn Wooden batted down a pass by Florida State quarterback Charlie Ward at the goal line with no time remaining. The desperation play began at the Notre Dame 14 with three seconds to go.

The outcome will give Notre Dame (10-0) the No. 1 ranking today and, barring an upset next week here by Boston College, a chance to play for the national championship on New Year's Day. But Florida State's comeback likely will keep the 9-1 Seminoles high enough in the rankings to stay in the hunt.

"There were so many times we had a chance to knock them out, and they refused to be knocked out," said Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz, whose team erased an early 7-0 deficit to lead 21-7 at halftime, 24-7 midway through the third quarter and 31-17 with 4:05 remaining. "We won the football game, but that is one outstanding football team."

Said Bowden, whose team's 16-game winning streak ended: "I have no excuses. They deserved to win. They did the things they had to. They had a great scheme and I was afraid of some of the things they would do, and they did yet."

While Notre Dame did what Florida State expected it to -- pounding the ball for 239 yards and four touchdowns, two more than the Seminoles had surrendered on the ground all season -- the Fighting Irish did it in a way that seemed tokeep their quicker opponents off balance.

After Ward directed Florida State on an efficient, 89-yard scoring drive on its first possession by completing five straight passes for 43 yards and scrambling twice for 34, Notre Dame came back on an 80-yard drive of its own. But Adrian Jarrell's 32-yard flanker reverse for a touchdown seemed to surprise the Seminoles.

"I think they thought we were going to try to run it up the middle and wear them out," said senior center Tim Ruddy. "But they saw that we had some speed to go along with our power."

Said Bowden: "I knew they were capable of the reverse. We had a guy who had an opportunity to make a play on it, but they had excellent execution."

Florida State, meanwhile, appeared to unravel as Notre Dame built its lead to 14-7 on a 26-yard run by tailback Lee Becton, to 21-7 on the first of short-yardage specialist and starting safety Jeff Burris' two touchdowns, and to 24-7 on Kevin Pendergast's career-best 47-yard field goal with 9:41 to go in the third quarter.

But as the sellout crowd of 59,075 began to celebrate on an unexpectedly balmy afternoon, the Seminoles mounted the first of two comebacks. They cut their deficit to 24-14 on a 6-yard pass from Ward to freshman tailback Warrick Dunn and climbed to within 24-17 on freshman Scott Bentley's 24-yard field goal with 10:40 to go.

"It wasn't that we relaxed," said Notre Dame senior cornerback Greg Lane. "They're a good team and you can't shut them down for too long."

When Burris rumbled into the end zone again after an 11-yard power sweep with 6:53 left, the celebration began anew. But after getting stopped once, the Seminoles came charging again. This time they took advantage of a 29-yard punt by Jarrell to go 45 yards in 99 seconds, scoring on fourth-and-goal from the 20 when Ward's pass was tipped by free safety Brian McGee into the hands of a waiting Kez McCorvey in the end zone.

Though Notre Dame recovered Florida State's onside kick with 2:24 to go, the Irish were stuffed on three plays. A punt by Jarrell from the Florida State 42 was partially tipped, and wound up going only five yards. The Seminoles had 51 seconds to go 63 yards, but had no timeouts left.

"I thought we were going to score," said Ward, who despite being sacked twice, intercepted once and harried into several bad throws, still had the poise to make Notre Dame a bit nervous. "When I made the first play, pitching it to Kez, I was thinking about going for the two-point play."

Florida State's final drive started with Ward about to be brought down for a short gain before pitching to McCorvey for 9 yards. It continued with Ward hitting Dunn for 4 yards and McCorvey for a pair of 18-yarders. On first down at the Notre Dame 14 with 10 seconds left, Ward's pass for Matt Frier was knocked down at the line by defensive end Thomas Knight. There were three seconds left.

"We figured they'd have double coverage on Kez, so he wasn't the go-to guy," said Bowden. "I saw Charlie scramble, but that's all I saw because of my seat."

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