TALLAHASSEE, Florida -- Florida proved Saturday afternoon that they are the best team in the state. What the 21-14 contest also showed was that a down and out Florida State team had a little left in the tank giving the 4th ranked Gators a run for their money. But when the dust settled, the loss put an explanation point on an extremely disappointing and embarrassing season for Florida State.
With the setback to their instate rival, the 'Noles finished the regular season with a .500 record at 6-6, the worst mark since Bobby Bowden's first season as FSU's head coach in 1976. With Gator victories between 2004-06, Florida has won three in a row in the series for the first time since 1984-86.
At least for the downtrodden Seminoles, they outplayed a heavily favored Florida team in the second half to make a game of it. But after Florida bounced back in the fourth quarter to retake the lead, FSU's offense couldn't muster a scoring drive despite three chances.
"At the half I really didn't know how it was going to come out because we hadn't shown any kind of spark offensively," head coach Bobby Bowden said. "The defense played good, I think every touchdown Florida had was long. The offense played better in the second half, had the opportunity to tie it up and get another one."
As has been the case in most games this season, FSU got off to a slow start offensively. Other than an early drive that ended in a botched Gary Cismesia field goal, his fifth miss in his last six tries, the offense managed just -1 total yards in the first two quarters of play.
While FSU's offense was floundering against the nation's No. 11 ranked defense, the Gator offense benefited from big plays. With 3:15 left in the first quarter, Chris Leak threw what looked like a harmless short route to Andre Caldwell, but the junior wideout turned the corner and raced down the sideline for a 66-yard score.
In the second quarter it was freshman Percy Harvin who inflicted the damage. Last year's No. 1 rated recruit showed off his running abilities by taking a hand-off from Leak, finding a hole on the right side of the line and then outran the Seminole defense for a 41-yard touchdown. Harvin was later injured and had to be taken off the field in a stretcher. Later reports indicated that the injury was probably not serious.
With the Gators missing two field goal attempts, FSU was still within two scores going into the locker room. But with as poorly as the offense played in the first half and all season, 14 points looked like a insurmountable task. However, the 'Noles found the spark they were looking for thanks for a Florida turnover and a rejuvenated defense.
"Obviously we were upset coming into the half. We were upset because it didn't seem like everybody was fighting like we are used to in a game like this," quarterback Drew Weatherford said. "We went in and got our minds right and came out and just executed. That's all it really came down to in the second half."
That second half shift started after a poor pitch from Leak to Caldwell that was quickly recovered by freshman defensive end Kevin McNeil. After driving the ball inside Florida's 10-yard line, FSU turned the ball right back when Tremaine McCollum picked off a Drew Weatherford pass. Although that play could have killed the 'Noles' momentum, FSU's defense rose to the occasion and forced the Gators to punt from deep in their own end.
Starting from UF's 44-yard line, and on third and one, Lorenzo Booker found a huge hole in the line and raced 34 yards to set up a first and goal from the one-yard line. On the next play, fullback Joe Surratt pushed ahead for the touchdown.
Florida State wasn't done scoring. With the Mickey Andrews' defense continuing to stuff Leak and the Gator offense, FSU's offense again got good field position and converted. Just 33 seconds into the fourth quarter, Weatherford hooked up with Greg Carr, who outfought Reggie Lewis for the ball, for a 25-yard score. That play and the extra point evened the score and the Gator fateful in attendance were stunned, but it didn't last long.
On Florida's next possession, Leak directed a 10-play 74-yard drive and the visitors retook the lead. On the key play, a third-and-nine from the 25-yard line, Dallas Baker was matched up one-on-one with Tony Carter, who was in perfect position but misplayed the pass. While Carter slowed down to find the football, Baker slipped behind him in the endzone and hauled in the pass from Leak.
The 'Noles came within an inch of answering the UF score on the very next play. Returner Michael Ray Garvin broke through the initial wave on the kickoff, put a shifty move on a Gator player and was off to the races down the sideline to the endzone. But as has been the case for Bobby Bowden's club all season, FSU couldn't catch a break as the speedy sophomore had a toe on the sideline at the 48-yard line.
The 'Noles were still able to drive to the Gator 29-yard line but a fourth-and-four pass to tight end Brandon Warren fell one yard short. On FSU's next drive another fourth down play (4th and 1) came up short when Gator safety Reggie Nelson knocked the ball out of Warren's hands.
"We had a darn good pass call and we couldn't get it done," Bowden said of the fourth-and-one call. "Our receiver was supposed to get in motion and I think Drew was scared he was running out of time and didn't get it done. We thought we'd get a good play out of it."
With six wins, FSU is bowl eligible and will likely be invited to the Emerald Bowl in San Francisco (CA) on December 27th. Florida State representatives would not confirm that the Emerald Bowl was a done deal, but according to several players in the locker room after the game, Director of Athletics Dave Hart indicated they are headed to San Francisco.