MIAMI -- The blowout victory did not come for heavily favored Florida State last night in the Orange Bowl, as nearly everyone outside the Nebraska state lines had predicted. Nor did Charlie Ward finish off his brilliant senior season with a final eye-popping performance.
But there were no wide-rights either. Thankfully for the Seminoles, there was a wide-left.
Freshman kicker Scott Bentley did for the Seminoles what none of his beleaguered predecessors could. After missing his first attempt, Bentley made his next four, including a 22-yarder with 21 seconds remaining, to lift Florida State to an 18-16 victory early this morning and probably its first national title.
Bentley's game-winning field goal followed a 27-yard field goal by Nebraska's Byron Bennett with 1:16 left that had put the second-ranked Cornhuskers (11-1) in front. Bennett had another chance to be a hero after a desperation drive reached the Florida State 28, but his 45-yard attempt as time ran out sailed left.
"Did we win or lose? I don't know," Florida State coach Bobby Bowden said during the post-game news conference. "It's hard to believe this danged game. Every time I looked up, somebody else was win ning it. First we were winning it, then they were winning it, then we won it. I guess it was just our time because Nebraska played as good or better than we did."
The victory probably will give Florida State (12-1), and its long-suffering coach, at least a share of their first national championship. The Seminoles almost certainly will remain the No. 1 team in The Associated Press poll of writers and broadcasters, but the narrow margin of victory for a 16 1/2 -point favorite could open the door for some debate, especially in the coaches' poll.
While the Seminoles were winning their eighth straight bowl game, and staying unbeaten in the postseason, the frustration continued for Nebraska. The defeat not only ended a perfect season, but also stretched Tom Osborne's streak of New Year's Day losses to seven.
"We tired them out a little, then we let them off the hook with the field goal," Osborne said. "We averaged 30 yards per game in penalties. Some of them killed us."
After seeing its 15-7 lead shrink to two, 15-13, early in the fourth quarter, and falling behind on Bennett's late field goal, Florida State marched from its 35 to the Nebraska 3 with the help of two Cornhuskers penalties and a big play by freshman tailback Warrick Dunn.
A 21-yard run by Dunn, as well as a dead-ball foul against #F Nebraska, gave the Seminoles a chance inside the 10. But Ward's pass to a wide-open Kez McCorvey was just a little off, as many of Ward's passes had been, and after two short runs, Bowden decided to turn to Bentley.
The kicker, who appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated before he played his first game for the Seminoles, did what former Seminoles kickers Dan Mowrey and Gerry Thomas never managed. His field goal was his fourth of the night -- an Orange Bowl record -- and saved Bowden from another year of wondering when he finally would win a national title.
"I feel great," said Bentley. [Holder] Danny Kanell said, 'You better jump in my arms, because I know you're going to make it.' I gave him a smile and I was very confident. All year people said I wasn't a pressure kicker. But I knew that if I got the chance, I'd make it."
Said Bowden: "We've lost national championships by missing kicks. Today we won by a field goal."
It was a wild finish to a four-hour game, that included the officials clearing the field with one second left and the Cornhuskers within field-goal distance. But Bennett, who had not made a field goal since mid-October before last night, wasn't even close on his last-ditch attempt.
"We just had to sit back and watch him kick it," said Ward, the game MVP, who finished 24 of 43 for 286 yards, but didn't throw for any touchdowns and was sacked five times. "I'm just glad he missed it."
The Cornhuskers, who have worked to improve their pass rush, put tremendous pressure on Ward. Especially All-American linebacker Trev Alberts, who despite a brace to protect his dislocated right elbow, sacked the Seminoles quarterback twice the first half.
After a scoreless first quarter, which produced a total of 67 yards combined, Florida State scored first on a 34-yard field goal by Bentley with 7:54 left in the half.
But Nebraska, which had earlier saw an apparent 71-yard TD on a punt return by Corey Dixon called back by an illegal (and from the television replays, phantom) block, immediately went ahead on one big play and one lucky one by sophomore quarterback Tommie Frazier.
The big play came when Frazier, on third-and-11 from the Florida State 40, found backup wide receiver Clester Johnson for a 25-yard gain. The lucky one came on second-and-nine from the Seminoles' 34, when a pass from Frazier intended for Johnson was tipped by strong safety Devin Bush into the waiting hands of another backup receiver, Randy Baul, who raced the final 20 yards.