CLEMSON, SC -- Florida State rallied from embarrassing to respectable, but even that furious second-half surge wasn't enough to salvage a victory Monday night at Clemson. The Tigers, who were unranked and underdogs, made two late defensive stands to secure a 24-18 victory in Bowden Bowl IX.
After falling behind by three touchdowns midway through the first half, Florida State pulled to within six points on a Drew Weatherford-to-Richard Goodman touchdown early in the fourth quarter. But after driving to Clemson's 31-yard line with 2:32 remaining and a chance to go for the lead, Weatherford threw three straight incompletions and was sacked on what amounted to a game-clinching fourth-down play.
"We woke up too late," FSU coach Bobby Bowden said of his team's lethargic start. "That first half was the worst I've seen us play. We had a chance to win it there at the end, but we couldn't get it done."
Clemson took an early 7-0 lead when first-year starting quarterback [DB]Cullen Harper[/DB] found tight end Brian Linthicum in the end zone from 11 yards out for a 7-0 lead with 6:07 left in the first quarter.
Things quickly went from bad to worse for the Seminoles as sophomore receiver Preston Parker fumbled the ball after a first-down completion, and Nick Watkins recovered it at the Florida State 24-yard line. Two plays later, Tigers tailback James Davis sprinted through the heart of FSU's defense for another touchdown and a 14-point lead.
"I don't think we were ready to play," junior cornerback Tony Carter said. "We got off to a slow start. They made some plays at the beginning, and we were left trying to play catch up."
Harper finished the game 14-for-24 with 160 yards while Davis had 18 carries for 102 yards and a score for the Tigers (1-0), who have won four of the last five meetings against Florida State.
Weatherford went 17-for-34 for 142 yards and a touchdown while Antone Smith had 14 rushes for 90 yards and a score for the Seminoles (0-1). Smith also had five receptions for 57 yards.
Clemson got the ball back late in the first quarter and on 2nd-and-5 from the Florida State 41, Harper hit Aaron Kelly deep and Kelly took the ball into the end zone on a 41-yard touchdown reception for a 21-0 lead with 13:25 left in the half.
The Seminoles finally stopped the bleeding later in the second quarter as Gary Cismesia hit a 36-yard field goal with 4:12 remaining, but Clemson got the points right back on a 31-yard field goal from Mark Buchholz to make it a 24-3 game heading into the locker room.
A Clemson miscue late in the third quarter helped Florida State as a snap on a punt went over the head of punter Jimmy Manners and when he picked the ball up deep in his territory he ran it out of the end zone to concede the safety.
On a 3rd-and-1 play on the ensuing possession, Smith took the ball through the middle on a 49-yard scamper to the one-yard line and on the next play punched the ball into the end zone. The Seminoles attempted a two-point play, but were stopped and trailed 24-11 heading into the fourth quarter.
The Seminoles got the ball in good field position on their first touch of the fourth quarter and took advantage of the short field. Starting on the Clemson 32, a seven-play drive was capped off when Weatherford connected with Richard Goodman on a 15-yard touchdown to make it a 24-18 game with 11:40 to play.
FSU had one final chance when Weatherford appeared to hit Goodman with a completion inside Clemson territory with :03 remaining, but the referees ruled that the pass was incomplete and time had expired.