Nov. 27, 2011
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- No offense? No problem.
Despite only gaining 95 yards Saturday night, the Florida State football team rode its opportunistic defense to a 21-7 victory over rival Florida at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Fla.
In doing so, the Seminoles (8-4) not only won a game in the Swamp for the first time since 2003 but they also claimed a second-consecutive state championship. FSU hadn't defeated both Florida and Miami in back-to-back seasons since doing so in 1998 and '99.
If that's not enough, the win marks head coach Jimbo Fisher's 18th triumph since taking over for legendary coach Bowden -- a feat that makes him the winningest coach in the first two years of his head-coaching tenure in Seminoles history.
But for Fisher, who is an offensive coach by trade and still calls the plays for the 'Noles, the win is bitter sweet. Florida State averaged just 1.6 yards per play and picked up only seven first downs against the Gators (6-6).
"We've got a lot of problems," Fisher said about the offense. "But I thought our defense played unbelievable. I thought that was one of the best defensive performances I have been around in my 22 years of coaching."
FSU's defense only gave up 184 yards and one late score after a Jermaine Thomas fumble, but it was the Seminoles' ability to force turnovers and turn the Gators' giveaways into points that was the difference at Florida Field.
The Seminoles intercepted four passes -- three off starter John Brantley and one off his injury replacement, Jacoby Brissett -- and while the first two were quickly followed by FSU scores on short fields, it was senior Terrance Parks' 29-yard pick-six that put the visitors on top 21-0 and the game out of reach early in the fourth quarter.
"That was a great play by Terrance," said defensive end Bjoern Werner, who registered one of FSU's season-best 13 tackles for loss.
Senior Shawn Powell did his part, too. The nation's No.-1 ranked punter kept the Gators pinned back in their own territory all evening with nine punts for an average of 44.4 yards per kick.
Powell also served as the sod captain; the player responsible for bringing back so turf to bury in the program's storied sod cementary.
Freeman, who now has a team-high 531 yards rushing this year, had two one-yard touchdown runs against UF.
For Florida, Brantley threw for 104 yards before FSU's Brandon Jenkins knocked him -- and consequently himself -- out of the game late in the second quarter. Brissett finished with just 27 yards passing.
Gators speedsters Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey combined for 36 yards rushing on 19 carries.
After fielding the opening kickoff, the Gators gave it away when Reid read Brantley's eyes, jumped the route and intercepted the ball to put FSU in scoring position.
Manuel was then stopped on 3rd-and-1 after leading the 'Noles to the goal line but after the play UF's Ronald Powell was flagged for a personal foul. The fresh set of downs lead to a Freeman one-yard carry for an early 7-0 score.
The Seminoles' second score would then play out much like the first. With UF threatening in FSU territory, Brantley threw into quadruple coverage and Harris intercepted the football before returning it 89 yards.
Harris' play marked the seventh-longest inception return in school history and set up another Freeman one-yard dash behind the blocking of Werner, who was also in the freshman's first score earlier.
FSU would get another Reid interception and then stuffed the Gators on 4th-and-1 later inside their own redzone to preserve a 14-0 lead heading into halftime despite gaining just 39 total yards on offense through the first two quarters.
The second half began without much offense by either side. FSU appeared to catch a break midway through the third quarter when Reid returned a punt deep into UF territory. But a Karlos Williams penalty pushed ball back 15 yards and the offense stalled.
Dustin Hopkins then missed a 50-yard field goal attempt as neither team would score in the third quarter.
That changed with Parks' interception return for a score. Parks was the beneficiary of a bad throw but it was Cornelius Carradine's pressure on Brissett that lead to the errant toss.
Down 21-0 with just a few minutes to play, UF added its lone score of the game after Thomas' fumble. Had the Gators not added that touchdown, it would have been UF's first shut-out since 1988.
"I'm very excited, very happy for our football team. I thought they battled, scratched and clawed," Fisher said. "It wasn't pretty by any means. But, coming here and getting a win doesn't happen very often. We have won the state championship two years in a row now and it feels very good."