No matter the obstacles, mistakes or distractions in their path, the Florida State Seminoles have found a way to win every game this season. The same held true Saturday in Tallahassee against rival Florida, as Florida State turned the ball over four times and still won 24-19. The Seminoles just outlast their foes, and in the process, have secured back-to-back undefeated regular seasons.
But with 3:23 left in the game, the result was in the Gators’ hands. On the first play from the Florida 22-yard line, Treon Harris ran for 11 yards for a first down. Good start, right? That was the best part of the Gators’ attempted comeback. Harris couldn’t connect with Brandon Powell on the next play, ran for two yards, and then missed Clay Burton. On fourth-and-8 from his own 35-yard line, Harris badly overthrew his receiver, but pass interference was called on Florida State’s Tyler Hunter despite what appeared to be minimal contact, and Florida got another gift from the Seminoles. However, Harris threw four straight incomplete passes, including one behind Demarcus Robinson on fourth-and-10 that just went off Robinson’s hands.
Like so many Florida State performances this season, this one started poorly for the Seminoles. Three Jameis Winston interceptions led to Florida field goals for an early 6-0 deficit. Then a Florida stop, followed by a 42-yard pass from Harris to Powell on the ensuing drive set up a third field goal by Austin Hardin for a 9-0 lead.
The Gators looked to pile on the Seminoles further when Winston threw a third interception on the following drive giving Florida the ball on the Florida State nine-yard line. But Harris’s first pass was bobbled by Tevin Westbrook and intercepted by Terrance Smith, who then returned it 94 yards for a touchdown. What potentially could have been 16-0 instead was 9-7 after Roberto Aguayo’s extra point. Will Muschamp lit into Westbrook after the play and was still seething after the game.
Florida State took the lead 14-9 following a 12-play drive early in the second quarter that was capped by a 10-yard touchdown pass from Winston to Nick O’Leary. Both teams would add another score before the half, and most crucially, Florida breathed life into its chances with a Harris pass to Clay Burton to pull it to 21-16 at the break.
Florida opened the second half with momentum, and added a 32-yard field goal by Hardin to pull within two at 21-19. Two drives later, Winston threw his fourth interception of the game, but Hardin narrowly missed a 52-yard field goal attempt to take the lead.
However, Florida State gave Florida another shot when it attempted a fake field goal at the Florida 38 and Florida saw it coming from a mile away, stuffing the Mario Edwards, Jr. run. But again, Florida missed a field goal to go ahead, with Hardin again pushing just wide right from 42 yards. The Seminoles responded with a long drive that ended on an Aguayo field from 37 yards to extend the lead that would eventually stand.
Winston was about as bad as he’s been this year, completing just 12 of 24 passes for 125 yards with the two scores to go with those four ugly interceptions. But you can only hand it to him and his teammates, who refuse to lose.
Now, Florida State will take on Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship, a group of Yellow Jackets that were much more impressive (and unlike Florida, punished the mistakes of their opponent) in their 30-24 win over Georgia during the early slate of Saturday games.
Meanwhile, like so many times during the Muschamp era, Florida is left wonder what might have been had those two missed field goals gone in, or if Westbrook hadn’t bobbled away that Harris pass in the red zone. The loss brings Muschamp’s tenure at Florida to an end. Well, almost.