Nov. 22, 1997
Top-Ranked Seminoles Lose to Gators, 32-29
GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Fred Taylor torched the nation's top rushing defense for 162 yards and four touchdowns, including the game-winner with 1:50 left, as 10th-ranked Florida salvaged a disappointing season by knocking off top-ranked Florida State, 32-29.
Linebacker Dwayne Thomas sealed the victory by intercepting Thad Busby at the Florida State 27-yard line with 61 seconds left. The Gators (9-2) will not defend their national championship, but likely took away Florida State's chance at the title.
"It means they can't go to the national championship game if I can't go," said Taylor. "That was a nice way to end it in `The Swamp.'"
"This was a special one," said Florida coach Steve Spurrier. "I had a TV guy tell me that he has never seen so much emotion in a stadium. Certainly, our fans gave us a chance to win this game. We weren't real perfect every time and had some bad plays and missed kicks, but our kids really fought their hearts out and hung in there."
Florida State coach Bobby Bowden said his team still has hope for getting to the Orange Bowl and playing for the national championship.
"I told my players after the game that you never know," Bowden said. "We did this to them last year and the right people got upset. But now we're at the hands of someone else."
"We can't dwell on this because we still have something to play for," said FSU center Kevin Long. "Hopefully, the cards can fall our way at the end like they did for Florida last year. We have great seniors and I know we can keep everyone focused on the fact that we still can reach our goal."
The Seminoles (10-1) could not stop Florida's home winning streak, which extended to 21 games, because of a three-play, 80-yard drive that culminated with Taylor's one-yard scoring run with 1:50 remaining. Last season, Florida State also was ranked number one when it was slammed 52-20 by Florida in the Sugar Bowl and the Gators were ranked at the top when the Seminoles scored a 24-21 victory.
"I'd rather lose 52-20 than the way we did tonight," said Bowden. "One play separated us. We just could not contain (Jacquez) Green and Taylor long enough."
Sebastian Janikowski kicked a 20-yard field goal to give Florida State a 29-25 lead with 2:38 remaining, and his ensuing kickoff was downed in the end zone for a touchback.
"We started to go for the touchdown at the end, but we thought if we gave up one long play they could beat us with a kick," Bowden said.
Embattled sophomore Doug Johnson, who was the starter at the beginning of the season but has struggled since, threw a 63-yard pass up the right sideline to Green, who was finally pulled down at the FSU 17. Taylor carried around left end for 16 yards on the next play and went left for the score on the ensuing carry, making it a 32-29 game.
"It was a great play," said Johnson of the long pass to Green. "They were looking for that curl that I came up with the signal for, but I gave them a little something else that made it curl-and-up. Quezzy's (Green) a great athlete and went up there and got it."
"Doug has been through a lot," said Spurrier. "We have not given up on him. Like I said, he was in a slump or a rut and some bad things were happening. It wasn't all his fault; there was sacks and bad plays. Fortunately, tonight our protection was decent out of the shotgun, maybe we should have played the whole season in the shotgun. Doug is a talented player and he got his competitive fire back tonight."
Busby was sacked on Florida State's next play from scrimmage, leaving the ball at the FSU 16. After an incompletion, Thomas made the clinching interception.
Florida coach Steve Spurrier sent out fifth-year senior Noah Brindise, who has taken time from Johnson, to kneel on the ball twice and kick off a frantic celebration in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. The Gators have a 26-12-2 lead in the all-time series.
Taylor's effort helped the Gators to a 499-360 advantage in total yardage, including a 163-141 edge on the ground. The team with more rushing yardage is 9-1-1 in the last 11 games of the series. Florida State's rushing defense had allowed just 408 yards on 348 attempts, a per-game average of 40.8, before Taylor's heroics.
Taylor's four touchdowns matched a school record originally set in 1915 by Rammy Ramsdell against Mercer and tied 13 years later by Tommy Owens against the same opponent. The Gators are 14-0 when he eclipses the 100-yard mark.
True freshman Travis Minor ran for 142 yards on 21 carries against the NCAA's second-ranked rushing defense. The Gators were allowing 63.7 yards per game on the ground.
Green made seven catches for 145 yards and completed an 18-yard pass to Johnson, who completed 13-of-25 passes for 218 yards and no interceptions with one touchdown. Brindise was 5-of-9 for 100 yards with no TDs or interceptions.
"Yeah, we did it," said Brindise. "It was hard, because a lot of things I did today for the last time. It was the last time to get to run onto the field, the last time I was gonna play at `The Swamp.' I was just trying to put that emotion behind me, because I knew if there was any way to go out, it would be to beat Florida State at home. It is so emotional for me now. I'm just so happy our team played the way we did."
Florida State trailed 18-17 at halftime -- the first time that has happened all season -- but Janikowski booted a 31-yard field goal for a two-point lead with 10:32 left in the third quarter.
Taylor gave the Gators the lead back 67 seconds later when he broke through the middle for a career-best 61-yard touchdown run and a 25-20 advantage.
"Coach called a sweep play," Taylor said. "Normally, I like sweep plays, but not as much as running straight at people. I made one cut, and (fullback) Rod Frazier and the linemen opened up nice holes. Once I got out in the open, nobody was gonna catch me."
The Seminoles rebounded with an eight-play, 74-yard drive that took just over four minutes and ended with Minor's 18-yard scoring run. A two-point conversion pass fell incomplete and Florida State held a 26-25 lead.
Taylor scored on a three-yard run 4:15 into the game, but Collins Cooper missed the extra point for a 6-0 lead. Taylor fumbled later in the quarter and linebacker Sam Cowart picked it up and raced 15 yards for FSU's go-ahead score. Another fumble by Taylor led to Janikowski's 28-yard field goal with 1:51 left in the first quarter.
"After the fumble, I was really counting on the defense," Taylor said. "We should have beat them worse than the score said, but we were minus 10 points. I gave them 10 points myself. My teammates told me to stick with it and and say a prayer to the man above. I said a quick prayer and everything worked out."
Busby, who was 23-of-39 for 219 yards and two interceptions, threw a five-yard scoring strike to tight end Melvin Pearsall with 6:49 left in the second quarter as Florida State built a 17-6 cushion.
"I'm not going to lie about it," Busby said. "We came down here and expected to win. It was a heck of a game and the kind of game where the last team to score was going to win. They just seemed to answer every time we went ahead. ... We still have a chance to win the championship. We need some help. Depending on the rankings and what Tennessee does, we could still play in the Orange Bowl."
"When we had them 17-6, we really had the momentum and we almost had the crowd out of it," said Florida State linebacker Daryl Bush. "But they were able to respond and get the crowd back into the game. ... This has got to be the toughest loss of my career."
Brindise threw a 49-yard pass to a wide-open Travis McGriff to put the ball at the FSU 6 and then found him alone on the next play for a score as the Gators got within 17-12 only 99 seconds later.
"He was open for about eight or nine seconds, and I finally saw him," said Brindise of his longest career completion and McGriff's career-long reception.
Taylor's four-yard TD run 4:13 before halftime and a second straight missed two-point conversion pass left Florida with an 18-17 edge.