Hokies get trapped in morass of Florida State's depth

January 05, 2000|By John Eisenberg

NEW ORLEANS -- Midway through the second quarter of college football's national championship game last night at the Superdome, Florida State coach Bobby Bowden trotted down the sideline for an interview with an ABC sideline reporter. While the game was going on.

As Bowden spoke with his back to the camera, the Seminoles ran a flea flicker that gained 33 yards. They were already three touchdowns ahead of Virginia Tech at that point, and FSU's Peter Warrick was running wild, and it was hard not to get the sense that FSU's second national title in six years was all but locked up.

The head coach turning his back on a flea flicker to give an interview certainly indicated a high level of confidence.

As it turned out, the Seminoles had to work a whole lot harder before they could start to celebrate.

With freshman quarterback Michael Vick putting on a show of scrambling, passing and play-making that won't soon be forgotten, the Hokies survived FSU's early assault and rallied with 22 straight points to take the lead late in the third quarter.

But just when it seemed an upset was at hand, the Seminoles staged a rally of their own and won, 46-29, in a classic game loaded with drama and big plays.

"They showed their character in coming from behind on us, and then we showed our national championship caliber in coming from behind to win," Bowden said. "There was a moment of truth late in the third quarter when they had the momentum and were fixing to win the ballgame, but our kids came back."

The Hokies gave a fine accounting of themselves in front of a roaring crowd dominated by Tech fans, making enough big plays to win most games and, if anything, showing they belonged in the title game ahead of Nebraska and the other teams with one loss that had sniffed at the Hokies' credentials.

They certainly shut up the arrogant FSU fans who were chanting "overrated" in the second quarter.

Few other teams, if any, could have withstood the Seminoles' early flurry and come back to make things interesting. The Hokies did that and more, but they ran out of gas after taking the lead.

The Seminoles, who have such amazing depth that they used 54 players in the first quarter alone, basically outlasted Tech.

They also had Warrick, who caught two touchdown passes and a two-point conversion and also became the first player in 35 years to return a punt for a touchdown in the Sugar Bowl.

As the Hokies had feared, Warrick made them pay for what happened to him this season, when he was arrested for theft, suspended for two games and blew a shot at winning the Heisman Trophy.

"I don't know that we would have won tonight without [Warrick]," Bowden said.

After the Hokies took the lead at 29-28, with the din in the Superdome reaching shattering levels, the Seminoles responded by driving 85 yards in 11 plays for a touchdown, then converting a two-point conversion for a 36-29 lead.

After Vick fumbled on the next series, FSU quarterback Chris Weineke hit Warrick in the end zone for a 43-yard touchdown and the celebration was on -- this time for real.

"Maybe this team just needs to get behind to get focused," Weineke said.

The Seminoles had celebrated earlier, after delivering a powerful knockout punch in the game's first 19 minutes, during which they scored on a blocked punt, a 59-yard punt return and passes of 64 and 63 yards. The Hokies controlled the ball for all but 119 seconds of the first quarter and still were down 28-7 with 11: 20 left in the second quarter.

When the Hokies drove down the field and scored a touchdown just before halftime, cutting FSU's lead to 14 points, you had the feeling the Hokies would have a chance to make the game interesting in the second half. They did that and more.

Vick was at his best during the rally, whirling and ducking, scrambling and throwing, confounding the defense. Seldom has a quarterback, let alone a freshman, put on such a show in such a big game.

"I knew he was good, but I didn't know he was that darn good," Bowden said.

Vick was carrying the offense almost by himself at that point, with his second-favorite receiver, Ricky Moore, out of the game after breaking his foot in practice last week, and halfback Shyrone Stith knocked out with a twisted knee after gaining 68 yards in the first half.

At one point late in the third quarter, for the briefest time, Vick's mobility and relentlessness almost seemed to break the Seminoles. He wound up rushing for 97 yards and passing for 225, but even those numbers don't reflect his impact on the game.

The Seminoles just had more depth and more weapons in the end, and they also had Warrick, who was voted the game's Most Valuable Player and will now head to the NFL as one of the top picks in the next draft.

"When the game was still close in the fourth quarter, Pete said to the guys, `Are you ready for me to go out there and finish them off?' " Bowden said. "And darn if he didn't."

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