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Jan. 1, 1998

Florida State Claims Sugar Bowl with 31-14 Victory over Ohio State

Julian Pittman
Julian Pittman celebrates a sack of Stanley Jackson. (Associated Press)

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Florida State's slim national championship hopes were snuffed out before the Seminoles trotted on the field Thursday night. They didn't let it affect their performance against Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl.

Thad Busby threw for 334 yards, E.G. Green caught seven passes for 176 yards and a swarming defense led by All-American Andre Wadsworth gave No. 4 Florida State a 31-14 victory over the ninth-ranked Buckeyes.

Florida State (11-1) had hoped No. 1 Michigan would lose in the Rose Bowl and third-ranked Tennessee would come through with a lackluster win over No. 2 Nebraska in Friday's night Orange Bowl. But Michigan defeated Washington State 21-16 just minutes before the game began in New Orleans.

Nevertheless, the Seminoles will extend their streak of finishing no lower than fourth in the national rankings to 11 consecutive years after beating Ohio State (10-3). They also redeemed themselves for a 52-20 loss to Florida in last year's Sugar Bowl, which cost FSU its second national title of the 1990s.

Florida State, which had won a record 11 straight bowl games before that loss to the Gators, pushed coach Bobby Bowden's postseason record to 16-4-1, putting him only two victories behind college football's career bowl leader, Joe Paterno of Penn State.

By contrast, John Cooper saw his bowl record drop to 2-7 in 10 years at Ohio State.

Florida State, relegated to the Sugar this year after losing its final regular-season game to Florida, scored two quick touchdowns in the final 3 1/2 minutes of the second quarter for a 21-3 lead at the break. That was plenty of points for a defense ranked in the top 10 nationally in all major categories.

Peter Warrick
Peter Warrick rises after a reception against Ohio State. (Associated Press)

Busby, redeeming himself for a poor Sugar Bowl a year ago, was 22-of-33, throwing for one touchdown and running for another. Green was the game's MVP and Wadsworth had two sacks and set up a field goal with an interception.

Ohio State, averaging nearly 32 points and 413 yards per game, didn't reach the end zone until Joe Germaine escaped a heavy rush and threw a 50-yard touchdown pass to John Lumpkin, who made a spectacular, juggling grab with 8:57 remaining.

Pepe Pearson had minus-10 yards rushing at halftime and the Buckeyes' offensive woes were typified by a series in the second quarter when Stanley Jackson was sacked on three straight plays.

After that defensive stand, the Seminoles got the ball at their own 45 and needed only two plays to score. Green caught a 46-yard pass from Busby, who then scored on a 9-yard quarterback draw to give Florida State a 14-3 lead with 3:25 to go in the first half.

Germaine followed with his second interception, returned 51 yards by Shevin Smith to the Ohio State 23 with 27 seconds left. The Seminoles reached the 1 on Busby's 17-yard pass to Travis Minor and William McCray ran it in from there with 10 seconds remaining.

Busby was intercepted twice in the first quarter and seemed on his way to repeating his performance in the last year's Sugar, when he was completed only 17-of-41 against Florida.

On the final play of the opening period, however, Busby hooked up with Green on a 27-yard touchdown pass to erase Ohio State's 3-0 lead.

The Buckeyes appeared to score a touchdown when Lumpkin caught a 4-yard pass from holder Brent Bartholomew after faking a field goal. But officials called an unsportsmanlike penalty against Lumpkin for slipping on the field illegally, and Dan Stultz missed a 42-yarder after another penalty pushed Ohio State further back.

The Seminoles lost linebackers Daryl Bush and cornerback Samari Rolle to first-half injuries and Ohio State took advantage in the third quarter, keeping the ball for nearly 12 minutes. But the Buckeyes' only points of the period came on Stultz's second field goal and a safety when Busby stepped out of the end zone trying to scramble.

Ohio State put a new twist on its two-quarterback setup, actually rotating Jackson and Germaine several times in mid-series for the first time this season. It didn't help - Germaine was 10-of-26 for 173 yards, while Jackson was 6-of-10 for just 34 yards, with an interception.

With Florida State playing in New Orleans for the third time in four years, the game did not sell out. Bowl officials said 67,289 tickets were sold, and there appeared to be less than 60,000 at the Superdome.

The Sugar Bowl was sponsored by Nokia.

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