Jan. 2, 1997
Seminoles' Title Hopes Take Tumble in Sugar Bowl
NEW ORLEANS -- Third-ranked Florida staked a claim to its first-ever national championship as Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel threw three touchdown passes to Ike Hilliard and ran for another score in a 52-20 victory over top-ranked Florida State in the Sugar Bowl at New Orleans.
Wuerffel connected on touchdown passes to Hilliard in each of the first three quarters -- of nine, 31 and seven yards -- and added a 47-yard completion to the receiver to set up another score. The third touchdown pass to Hilliard began a 28-point explosion that broke open a close game and enabled the Gators to avenge a 24-21 setback to Florida State on November 30th.
Florida State coach Bobby Bowden dreaded the idea of playing his intrastate rival for the second time in a season, and with good reason. The Seminoles (11-1) were denied their second national title in four years and allowed their highest point total since a 59-27 loss to Auburn in 1985.
The defeat was extra bitter since it came against Gators coach Steve Spurrier, who spent the past week complaining about late hits on Wuerffel in the November meeting. The controversy grew heated during the week, with Bowden warning Spurrier that the attacks became too personal.
Spurrier's comments helped disguise his poor record against Bowden. Tonight was just his third win against Bowden in nine tries, but no game was nearly as important.
"First of all, I'll say what Danny always says. God looked down on the Gators this year," Spurrier said. "We have a lot to be thankful for. I want the players to realize that divine guidance or something like that helped us this year."
The Gators (12-1) also erased the memory of last season's 62-24 loss to Nebraska in the Fiesta Bowl, a defeat that kept Spurrier from his first national title that come when the polls were released this morning.
Wuerffel scrambled 16 yards for a touchdown with 13 seconds left in the third quarter and Terry Jackson scored on runs of 42 and one yard in the fourth quarter to complete the rout. Wuerffel can become the second Heisman Trophy winner in four years to also win a national championship, following Charlie Ward of Florida State in 1993.
"It's been a wonderful career with many great moments," said the polite Wuerffel, whose demeanor is directly opposite that of his outspoken coach. "This is one of the best."
Wuerffel completed 18-of-34 passes for 306 yards, with Hilliard catching seven for 150 yards.
Spurrier, however, was not about to take credit, instead thanking his quarterback and the series of events that put him in the de facto national title game.
"Danny is the best quarterback that has ever played college football," added Spurrier, who noted that a win by Texas over Nebraska in the Big 12 title game and Ohio State's triumph over Arizona State in Wednesday's Rose Bowl put his team in position to claim a national title.
Wuerffel had a touchdown pass to Hilliard called back by an illegal formation penalty before finding him again on a slant pattern over the middle with 9:48 left in the first quarter. The Gators drove 77 yards after linebacker Mike Peterson stopped Seminoles fullback Pooh Bear Williams short of a first down on 4th-and-2 at the Gators 22.
As expected, Wuerffel has worked primarily out of the shotgun formation, giving him more time to throw. Facing a three-man blitz, Wuerffel was able to loft the 47-yard pass to Hilliard. A roughing-the-passer penalty was tacked on the end of the play, putting a smile on the face of Spurrier.
Fred Taylor scored on a two-yard run two plays later, increasing the lead to 17-3 with 11:28 left in the quarter.
"Steve left his running backs in more tonight and it gave Wuerffel more time," Bowden said. "Their protection scheme was oustanding."
A defensive lapse by the Gators helped the Seminoles cut the deficit to seven points. Two Florida defensive backs collided, leaving E.G. Green all alone in the end zone for a 29-yard pass from Thad Busby midway through the second quarter. Busby completed just 17-of-41 passes for 271 yards, with 55 of those yards coming on the first play from scrimmage.
Florida needed a little more than two minutes to rebuild its two-touchdown lead as Wuerffel threw the 31-yarder to Hilliard, who caught the ball over the middle, stopped on a dime and reversed field into the end zone.
Florida State answered again, this time on a 12-yard touchdown run by Warrick Dunn with 40 seconds left in the half. Dunn, who rushed for 185 yards in the November meeting with Florida, was held to 28 yards on nine carries and saw limited action in the second half due to cramps.
"It hurts because in a game like this you need to play well on both sides of the ball, you need to be able to have a balanced offense and not having Warrick out there kept us from being able to do that," Busby said.
The Seminoles moved within four points on a 45-yard field goal by Scott Bentley early in the third quarter, but that would be the last time they would score.
Jacquez Green had a 26-yard punt return to the 24 and Wuerffel drilled a seven-yard touchdown pass to Hilliard on 3rd-and-goal with 5:43 left in the quarter. Special teams, a problem for the Gators this season, played a role in another first half score as Reidel Anthony had a 27-yard punt return to set up a 32-yard field goal by Bart Edmiston.
The Gators won despite playing the second half without star linebacker James Bates, who suffered a concussion.
The longest current current winning streak in the country -- 12 games -- ended, as did the Seminoles' 11-game bowl winning streak. Florida State was unbeaten in its previous 14 bowls (13-0-1) since a 18-17 setback to Oklahoma in the 1981 Orange Bowl.
The game included 29 penalties for 127 yards, including 15 for 102 on the Gators.
Florida 52, Florida State 20
1 2 3 4 F - - - - -- Florida (3) 10 14 14 14 52 Florida St (1) 3 14 3 0 20 FINAL Florida-Hilliard 9 pass from Wuerffel (Edmiston kick) Florida St-FG Bentley 43 Florida-FG Edmiston 32 Florida-Taylor 2 run (Edmiston kick) Florida St-Eg Green 29 pass from Busby (Bentley kick) Florida-Hilliard 31 pass from Wuerffel (Edmiston kick) Florida St-Dunn 12 run (Bentley kick) Florida St-FG Bentley 45 Florida-Hilliard 7 pass from Wuerffel (Edmiston kick) Florida-Wuerffel 16 run (Edmiston kick) Florida-T Jackson 42 run (Edmiston kick) Florida-T Jackson 1 run (Edmiston kick) Florida Florida St First downs 26 13 Rushed-yards 43-168 21-42 Passing yards 306 271 Sacked-yards lost 5-26 3-25 Return yards 76 98 Passes 18-34-1 17-42-2 Punts 7-48.1 8-46.4 Fumbles-lost 1-0 0-0 Penalties-yards 15-102 14-115 Time of possession 36:27 23:33 Individual Statistics RUSHING: Florida-T Jackson 12-118, Taylor 18-60, Williams 4-2, Schottenheime 1-0, Mccaslin 2-minus 2, Wuerffel 6-minus 10. Florida St-Dunn 9-28, Warrick 1-12, P Williams 2-7, Feaster 2-1, Busby 7-minus 6. PASSING: Florida-Wuerffel 18-34-1-306. Florida St-Busby 17-41-1-271, Kendra 0-1-1-0. RECEIVING: Florida-Hilliard 7-150, Green 5-79, Anthony 4-50, Mobley 1-16, Taylor 1-11. Florida St-Messam 5-48, Cooper 4-82, Eg Green 3-86, Pearsall 1-25, Dunn 1-12, Abdullah 1-10, Warrick 1-7, P Williams 1-1. Att: 78,344