Frantic Orange ending caps wild season

January 03, 1994|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Staff Writer

MIAMIO — MIAMI -- The confusion that filled the Orange Bowl for the final, frantic moments of top-ranked Florida State's 18-16 victory over second-ranked Nebraska early yesterday morning proved the perfect ending to a wacky college football season.

Even after Scott Bentley's game-winning, 22-yard field goal with 21 seconds left had negated a 27-yarder by Byron Bennett with 1:16 to go, even after Bennett's last-ditch 45-yarder with no time remaining went wide left, Seminoles coach Bobby Bowden didn't know whether to celebrate or cry.

"Did we win or lose?" a bewildered Bowden said at the post-game news conference that followed a wild, four-hour game. "I don't know. It's hard to believe this doggone game. Every time I looked up, somebody else was ahead. First we were, then they were, then we were."

The confusion nearly proved costly for Florida State (12-1). After not taking enough time off the clock before Bentley's winning field goal, the Seminoles were called for an excessive celebration penalty. The combination gave Nebraska (11-1) enough time and good enough field position to make the ending even stranger.

The Cornhuskers made it all the way to the Florida State 28, the last 29 yards on a pass from Tommie Frazier to Trumane Bell. As the final seconds ticked away, the Seminoles started coming on the field. Bowden, thinking time had elapsed, made it all the way over the Nebraska sideline, searching out Cornhuskers coach Tom Osborne for a post-game handshake.

"I looked up and saw 2 . . . 1 . . . get that other one off that board," Bowden recalled yesterday. "When I got over there, a couple of those Nebraska boys said, 'Hey coach, the game's not over.' I'm thinking that another chance at a national championship is slipping away. That would have been terrible. But I got to celebrate twice."

The second time came after Bennett's kick sailed wide left. Though the direction was different, it was reminiscent of the way Florida State had lost key regular-season games to Miami in 1991 and 1992, thus costing the Seminoles chances at a national championship.

"Two years ago when we lost to Miami, I remember looking up at the scoreboard and saying, 'How did we lose?' " said Bowden. "Now, it's on the other foot. We won the ballgame, but I don't know if we deserved to win the ballgame."

Said Osborne: "As far as I'm concerned, we won. They didn't win on the scoreboard, but they did what they had to do. They played great football, but we could have won it just as easily as we lost it. The main thing is that the players played like champions."

Bowden said the Seminoles lost control of things, as well as of themselves, in the final minute. He blamed himself for his team's decision not to run time off the clock before Bentley's kick, making the rare admission that "we were not organized."

He even questioned Florida State's strategy to use Heisman Trophy quarterback Charlie Ward out of an I formation for the first half instead of going right to the shotgun and second-guessed a lateral pass play called by one of his assistants that resulted in a 7-yard loss and a loss of early momentum.

"Last time you'll ever see that play," said Bowden.

The Seminoles, despite being favored by 16 1/2 points, even needed a few questionable calls by the Big East officiating crew. The Cornhuskers were penalized 11 times for 115 yards, including three 15-yard personal fouls on Florida State's winning drive, and also had a 71-yard punt return for a touchdown called back for an illegal block early in the game.

Osborne would not criticize the officials, but All-America linebacker Trev Alberts did.

"I thought it was absolutely incredible," said Alberts, who had three of Nebraska's five sacks against Ward. "I've never seen officials try to protect a player like they did with Charlie Ward. Every timewe came close to Charlie, they screamed at us. We don't understand that kind of thing coming from the Big Eight. We were kind of stunned by it."

Ward needed all the protection he could get, because his offensive line collapsed often in the face of Nebraska's relentless pressure. Ward finished the game with some deceptively good stats -- 24 of 43 for 286 yards -- but had no touchdowns. He was outplayed by Frazier, a sophomore who was 13 of 24 for 206 yards, with one touchdown and two interceptions. The Cornhuskers managed to stay close despite losing I-back Calvin Jones in the second quarter with a shoulder injury.

"We were pretty beat up, offensively particularly with Calvin Jones and his experience," said Osborne. "And Abdul Muhammed and Corey Dixon [both of whom were hurt during the game] are two of our best receivers, so we were hurting there. So a lot of guys showed a lot of courage tonight, and Frazier played well."

Said Ward, who still managed to be named the game's Most Valuable Player, "I was kind of off, but we pulled it out."

Amid plenty of confusion, which reigned even more than the Seminoles did.

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