Fla. State stays on title track, 33-21

November 28, 1993|By Andrew Bagnato | Andrew Bagnato,Chicago Tribune

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Bobby Bowden has watched Miami thwart his national title ambitions more than once.

Yesterday, another local football power, seventh-ranked Florida, had similar plans. All Bowden's top-ranked Florida State

Seminoles had to do to keep their title hopes alive was wade into "The Swamp" and drag back a victory. When they did, 33-21, Bowden said he was more relieved than anything.

"This may be as big a victory as any of them because of what it implies, that we might finally play for a national championship," Bowden said. "That makes it pretty doggone big."

The wackiest college football season in memory looks as if it will end exactly as expected -- with Florida State (11-1) playing for the national title Jan. 1.

They will cry fraud in Morgantown, W. Va., where the West Virginia Mountaineers stand 11-0. But as the joyous Seminoles legions rolled back to Tallahassee, it seemed perfectly obvious. The Seminoles will find out today if the pollsters do the expected and match them against No. 2 Nebraska (11-0) in the Orange Bowl.

"The people who picked us preseason No. 1 -- they were mostly correct," Bowden said. "We still haven't done it yet."

The Seminoles made a persuasive case in one of college football's most intimidating venues, where Florida had mugged four Top 5 teams during a 23-game win streak.

"We beat one of the best football teams in the country at their home," said Florida State wide receiver Matt Frier, who made 11 catches despite a stomach virus. "I think that answered a lot of questions."

The Seminoles quieted a manic Florida Field throng of 85,507, the largest crowd to see a football game, college or pro, in the state.

They did it on the arm of quarterback Charlie Ward, who dispatched any lingering doubts about the Heisman Trophy by completing 38 of 53 passes for 446 yards and four touchdowns. He also threw two interceptions, one in the end zone.

"Certainly, he is the Heisman winner," said Gators coach Steve Spurrier, who won the award in 1966. "Their defense is so good, but he makes their offense go."

Their defense? All it did was hold Gators running back Errict Rhett to 7 yards on seven carries. "Our No. 1 goal was to stop Rhett," Bowden said. "By stopping him, I meant hold him to 100 [yards]."

Put Ward and this defense together and you have a team that deserves a shot at the national title. But the Seminoles also showed their mettle.

Florida State had romped to a 27-7 lead after three quarters, but then the Gators rallied on two touchdown throws by backup quarterback Terry Dean. The second was a 31-yarder to Jack Jackson.

That catch, with 5:58 to go, seemed to wipe away all of Florida State's early domination. "The momentum had swayed," Ward said.

When the Gators batted down Ward's first two throws, the Seminoles were reeling, and Florida fans were screaming.

"I even found myself covering my ears a little bit," said Spurrier.

Then came a play that made him want to cover his eyes.

On third-and-10 from Florida State's 21, Ward faked a handoff to tailback Warrick Dunn and looked downfield. His first target was wide receiver Kez McCorvey. But Ward, fearing another deflection, drifted out of the pocket and flipped to Dunn, one-on-one with linebacker Ed Robinson.

Dunn sprinted for the first-down marker, then spotted a gap. "I was just trying to get a first down," said Dunn, a freshman who rooms with senior Ward. "Then . . . everything just happened so fast."

Wide receiver Tamarick Vanover helped spring Dunn with a nice pick on a defensive back. Florida's speedy Michael Gilmore put a fingertip on Dunn's heels as he flew by, but as Dunn breezed down the sideline, the Seminoles realized that they had cleared one more hurdle to that elusive national title.

"I started celebrating at about the 5-yard line," Dunn said. "I knew we were going to win this game."


If today's polls hold up -- and there's no reason to think they won't -- Florida State (11-1) will play Nebraska (11-0) for the national championship.

The Seminoles were ranked second in last week's bowl coalition poll, a combination of The Associated Press and USA Today-CNN polls that determines the major bowl matchups.

West Virginia, the only undefeated team in the country besides Nebraska that is eligible for a bowl, was third, 162 points behind Florida State. Nebraska was first.

The Mountaineers were hoping for Florida to defeat Florida State yesterday so that they could vault over the Seminoles into the No. 2 spot.

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