Nov. 14, 2010
By: Brandon Mellor, Seminoles.com
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - They had his back. Because they knew he'd get it next time.
Florida State players, coaches and staff all rallied around kicker Dustin Hopkins when he missed what would have been the game-winning field goal a week ago against North Carolina.
Saturday against Clemson, he paid them back for that support when he drilled a 55-yard field goal as time expired to give FSU a thrilling come-from-behind 16-13 victory over the Tigers.
"I knew God had a plan," Hopkins said. "That miss last week made this one that much more special. When I was going out there, some players came up and reassured me. It was great knowing they had my back."
For Hopkins, the long ball was not only his first game-winner and new career long but it was also the Seminoles' first offensive game-winning play as time expired since way back in the 1983 season. It also marked the third-longest field goal in school history.
Most importantly, the win over the Tigers (5-5, 3-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) keeps the 'Noles (7-3, 5-2) in the hunt for the ACC's Atlantic Division crown.
While Hopkins will steal Sunday's headlines, another second-year student-athlete also put his stamp on the victory.
Backup quarterback EJ Manuel got the nod under center in place of starter Christian Ponder, who was sidelined with an injury to his throwing arm. He finished the ballgame 15-for-24 for 210 yards while improving to 4-1 as a starter.
He also posted a team-best 71 yards rushing on 15 carries and one running score.
Manuel was aided by the emergence of sophomore wide receiver Rodney Smith, who set a career high with 121 yards on four catches. FSU generated 307 yards of total offense despite mustering just 80 in the first half.
Clemson put up 391 yards, including 143 on the ground from tailback Jamie Harper. But the FSU defenders - led by senior linebacker Kendall Smith's game-high 10 tackles and an endzone interception by redshirt freshman cornerback Xavier Rhodes - did what they had to do to keep their scoring in check.
A sloppy opening quarter helped Clemson get on the board first.
FSU held the Tigers to a punt on their opening drive but a penalty on the kick gave them a new set of downs. The miscue hurt even more a few snaps later as Harper ran into the endzone from 26 yards out.
FSU then retaliated with a 28-yard Hopkins field goal after an impressive first drive for the Manuel-led offense.
Halfway through the second quarter, another 'Nole miscue then paved the way for some Clemson points. Greg Reid fumbled on the FSU 10 yard line on a punt return after a stout defensive stand and four plays later a 22-yard Chandler Catanzaro made it a 10-3 ballgame in favor of the Tigers.
The visitors actually threatened to score one more time before the close of the opening half. But a Mike Harris interception close to the redzone kept the game manageable heading into the halftime break.
Despite struggling to generate much offense, it wasn't all bad for the Seminoles in the opening 30 minutes. Junior linebacker Nigel Bradham made a terrific play on a first-quarter field goal attempt and block the kick.
It was the first blocked field goal by the Seminoles this season.
The Seminoles opened the second half by nearly matching all of the offensive yardage of first two quarters on the initial drive. A 39-yard Hopkins field goal culminated 52-yard march and trimmed the Tigers' lead to 10-6.
Following a missed 38-yard Clemson field goal halfway through the third, it appeared as though the momentum had swung itself in favor of the Seminoles for the first time all night long.
But after FSU crossed the 50 yard-line on its ensuing drive, a Clemson interception promptly shut the door on that notion.
Or did it?
With Clemson looking like it was going to add to its lead with the great field position off the turnover, Rhodes nabbed an interception in the endzone to squelch that.
The terrific defensive play then led to the best offensive series of the night.
Starting on their own 15 yard-line two-thirds of the way through the fourth quarter, Manuel guided the Seminoles 85 yards to pay dirt as he capped off the 12-play drive with an eight-yard touchdown run to give FSU its first lead at 13-10.
Clemson did have an answer, though, as the Tigers added their own 3-pointer to tie the game at 13-13 with just 53 seconds left to play.
And then Hopkins' magic happened.
After back-to-back home games, FSU heads to Maryland for a pivotal conference clash with the Terrapins at 8 p.m.