Fla. St. finish conclusive as well as sweet

Seminoles measure up

Va. Tech 2nd in AP poll

January 06, 2000|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

NEW ORLEANS -- The winning team was vindicated. The losing team was validated.

That was the feeling coming out of the Superdome early yesterday morning after Florida State had survived a wild, 46-29 shootout with Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl national championship game. The top-ranked Seminoles had shown more heart than some of Bobby Bowden's previous teams. The second-ranked Hokies had proved deserving of their place on college football's biggest stage.

In winning its second title under Bowden in the past six years and becoming the first team in school history to finish unbeaten, Florida State (12-0) had made up for last season's disappointing loss to Tennessee in the same matchup at the Fiesta Bowl. It was the 23-16 defeat to the Volunteers that served to motivate the Seminoles this season.

"Last year when we went into the locker room, they were a very sad bunch of guys, and they let it be known," Bowden recalled yesterday. "There were a lot of tears in there, frustration. They came out of that locker room, and we met back when school started there seemed to be a continuity of all the players saying, `Hey, let's try to get back and win the national championship.' "

Of all the Seminoles, Peter Warrick certainly felt the most vindicated.

Warrick's decision to return to Tallahassee for his senior year grew partly out of a horrible performance against the Volunteers, a game in which he was limited to one catch for 7 yards. But he also showed those who had shunned him in both the voting for this season's Heisman Trophy as the nation's best player as well as for the Biletnikoff Award as the country's top receiver.

"I've never been so focused in my life," said Warrick, who caught six passes for 163 yards against the Hokies, including two for touchdowns, and ran back a punt for another touchdown. "I finished a champion."

A season in which Warrick was suspended for two games after being arrested for theft -- he and another Florida State player had accepted clothing from a clerk at a local department store for a deeply discounted price -- ended with Seminoles fans chanting his name. It came after he had silenced Virginia Tech and a majority of the crowd of 79,280 with an acrobatic, 43-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter.

Included among his highlights were a 64-yard touchdown catch that helped give Florida State a 7-0 lead and a 59-yard punt return for a touchdown that put the Seminoles ahead 28-7 with 11: 40 left in the second quarter. But Virginia Tech (11-1) came back behind redshirt freshman quarterback Michael Vick, who stunningly brought the Hokies into a 29-28 lead late in the third quarter.

"It was a great comeback for us," said Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer.

Virginia Tech's comeback helped the Hokies remain No. 2 in the Associated Press poll of writers and broadcasters. Virginia Tech dropped to third behind Nebraska (12-1) in the USA Today/CNN poll of coaches.

"That's pretty amazing," Beamer said yesterday before the team returned to Blacksburg. "I think it shows some respect for our program. I feel a lot better now in the fact that we came back. But you've got to give them credit. Peter Warrick made some outstanding plays. Peter Warrick did all he could to beat us, and Michael Vick did all he could do to beat them."

Warrick, who also caught a two-point conversion pass, set a Sugar Bowl record with 20 points. Despite jamming his wrist while being tackled early in the game, Vick accounted for 322 yards and two touchdowns -- 15-for-29 passing for 225 yards and one touchdown, as well as 23 rushing attempts for 97 yards and another score. Vick lost two fumbles.

It turned out that Warrick had a better -- and deeper -- supporting cast, from fellow wide-out Ron Dugans, who caught two touchdowns among his five receptions for 99 yards, to quarterback Chris Weinke, who completed 20 of 34 passes for 329 yards with four touchdowns and an interception. There was also an offensive line that limited Hokies All-American Corey Moore to one tackle and a defense that finally stopped the Hokies in the fourth quarter despite losing two starters to injury.

"They were losing people and we were losing people," said Bowden. "Our depth had to play a pretty big role in all of that. We had more horses."

Meanwhile, questions about Bowden's future remain. He has said that he plans to coach until he is 75, and winning a second championship will not alter those plans.

"I'm not interested in riding off into the sunset," said Bowden, who became the oldest coach to win a national championship. "Where is a 70-year-old going to ride to? Is there a saloon I don't know about? My nature makes me want to stay. I still enjoy recruiting, going into a player's house and meeting his family. I like the paycheck, and my wife likes the paycheck. She'll tell me when to quit. There's no reason to get out now. People retire and die."

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