Nov. 8, 1997
Seminoles Win ACC Showdown, 20-3
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - Thad Busby threw scoring passes to Melvin Pearsall and E.G. Green in the first half and the Florida State defense was dominant as the second-ranked Seminoles laid claim to the number one ranking with a 20-3 whipping of fifth-ranked North Carolina.
Florida State (9-0, 7-0 ACC) took control of the Atlantic Coast Conference race and spoiled the season for North Carolina quarterback Oscar Davenport, who suffered an apparent broken ankle in the third quarter.
"It wasn't easy. Our defense was challenged," said Florida State coach Bobby Bowden on his 68th birthday. "What I thought would happen, happened. They haven't had enough Wide Rights yet. You have to get kicked around enough in the big games to learn how to win them."
North Carolina (8-1, 5-1), which mustered only Josh McGee's 46-yard field goal with 13:34 remaining, again failed against the Seminoles. The Tar Heels have never beaten Florida State, going 0-8-1, and had their 10-game winning streak, which had been the longest in the country for a few hours, ended.
"If they play like that the rest of the way, they'll win the national championship," said North Carolina coach Mack Brown.
Busby was 14-of-30 for 159 yards with one interception. He was not sacked, and watched as the Florida State defense tied a school record with nine sacks, seven against Davenport and two against Chris Keldorf.
"We had to come in here and execute against a great defense," Busby said. "We had some mistakes, but tried to minimize them. I think we did that. We did what we had to do to get down the field and score. In the second half, we wanted to hold back a little and burn time off the clock. Overall, I think we did a great job as a team. Our defense played its best all season and we didn't let up."
The Tar Heels scored a season-high 48 points against Virginia, but have seen their point total fall in each of their last five games. North Carolina never has scored more than 18 points against the Seminoles, but this was its worst offensive performace.
The Tar Heels registered a paltry 73 yards of total offense on 48 plays. They had only nine yards in the first half and finished with minus-28 yards rushing for the game.
Florida State's 20 points matched the best total against North Carolina this season. The Seminoles had 334 yards of total offense, including 175 on the ground, 16 more than they had in the air. The defense was so good that Florida State's 11 penalties for 105 yards were not a factor. The Seminoles converted just 3-of-14 third downs, but limited North Carolina to one successful third-down conversion on 13 attempts.
Travis Minor, a true freshman, carried the ball 30 times for 128 yards, giving the Seminoles the balanced attack that helped them hold the ball nearly seven minutes more than UNC.
"Our defense continues to improve and our running game continues to improve and that is the key," Bowden said. "The defense played a 60-minute game. We had questions after what happened against Duke and NC State, but we played 60 minuutes of defensive football tonight. We were cautious in the second half offensively with the defense playing so well. Our thinking was just, `Let's don't give it away.' North Carolina has an excellent program and coaching staff. We had every psychological advantage. We've got another `big game' in two weeks."
It was the first time in ACC history that two teams ranked in the top five of any poll faced each other.
North Carolina had the ball on the Florida State 31-yard line on its first possession after a short punt. But Davenport was sacked by defensive end Greg Spires for a nine-yard loss and fumbled the ball away to Andre Wadsworth, who tried a lateral that was ruled an illegal forward pass and negated a potential FSU score.
"We control if we win or lose," said Wadsworth, who is one of four finalists for the Lombardi Award. "After the first half, we wanted to keep it pumped up. They (UNC) say that they're a second-half team. So we went back out treating it like it was 0-0. I think the pressure was more on them tonight. We are used to the big games. In fact, we have one in two weeks (against Florida). ... Their defense definitely wanted it, but our offense wanted it more."
"(Wadsworth) is the best player I've faced in the game," said North Carolina tackle Mike Baxter. "Coming into the game, we thought we were a better team, but as far as I'm concerned, they are number one. Their front four is excellent. They're very relentless, and we knew it going into the game, but they were the better team today."
Busby, who was intercepted on the ensuing possession, got things going 11 minutes into the game when he connected with Pearsall, the tight end, on an eight-yard scoring pass. Busby started the seven-play, 55-yard drive with a 17-yard pass to Peter Warrick and added a 15-yarder to Damian Harrell that got the ball to the UNC 12.
FSU doubled the lead with 4:27 left in the second quarter when Busby hit Green for a 14-yard score. The three-play, 28-yard drive was set up by Warrick's 13-yard punt return and keyed by Minor's 14-yard run.
North Carolina could not even get off a punt, stalling following the kickoff. Linebacker Brian Allen busted through the middle and blocked Brian Schmitz's punt, leaving the ball at the UNC 14. A 15-yard holding penalty on the Seminoles led to Sebastian Janikowski's 32-yard field goal with 32 seconds left before halftime, making it 17-0.
"The score doesn't tell how close the game was," said UNC cornerback Dre' Bly. "They just capitalized on the turnovers and took advantage of the opportunities and we didn't. That's a great football team. The guys played hard. It's not that we didn't fight hard or we weren't prepared, they just took a few turnovers and won the game."
North Carolina started the second half with a bang, as Davenport got the Tar Heels into Seminoles territory for the second time in the game with a 33-yard pass to L.C. Stevens. They got as far as the 40 before Davenport was dropped by Spires for a six-yard loss and then by Wadsworth for minus-seven yards.
The Seminoles marched 59 yards in nine plays, leading to Janikowski's 40-yard field goal with 6:28 left in the third quarter.
North Carolina had its deepest penetration into FSU territory on the next drive, getting as far as the 22 before Keldorf was sacked for a seven-yard loss and McGee kicked the 46-yarder.
"Talent-wise, I don't think there's a difference between us and them," Keldorf said. "I think we're just as good as the best teams in the country. Things just didn't go quite the way we