Florida State made a strong case for a
chance to defend its national championship, beating Florida in the
game that usually gives the winner a title shot.
Chris Weinke fought off the flu and threw for 353 yards and three touchdowns—two to Marvin Minnis—as No. 3 Florida State had a surprisingly easy time beating its bitter state rival 30-7 on Saturday night.
The Seminoles (10-1) completed their regular season by beating the No. 4 Gators (9-2) for the third year in a row, but now have to wait two weeks to find out if they’ll play for the Bowl Championship Series’ title in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 3.
Florida, the SEC East champion, still has a chance to play in the Sugar Bowl if it beats Auburn in the league title game Dec. 2.
The Seminoles can feel good about their chances because the winner of the Florida-Florida State game has gone on to play for the title five of the last seven years.
In the 45th meeting between these powers, a Doak Campbell Stadium-record crowd of 83,042 witnessed the Seminoles most impressive performance of the season.
Over 83,000 in the Stands
Weinke completed 23 of 44 passes, and his second TD pass of the game—a 34-yarder to Minnis in the first quarter—made him the Atlantic Coast Conference’s career passing leader, moving him ahead of Duke’s Ben Bennett. Weinke, who also enhanced his Heisman Trophy chances, has thrown for 9,789 yards in his career.
Minnis, who caught three TD passes in last week’s win over Wake Forest, had eight catches for 187 yards. For Florida, Jesse Palmer was 17-of-30 for 180 yards and two interceptions. Rex Grossman, who took the first snap and didn’t return until the game was decided in the fourth quarter, also threw an interception. He finished 10-of-16 for 98 yards.
With the win, Florida State extended its unbeaten streak at home to 52 games, dating to 1991, and its home winning streak to 35 games, dating to 1994.
Holding a 14-7 lead at the half, the Seminoles took control in the third period thanks to Weinke’s passing and Florida’s penalties.
William McCray capped an 80-yard drive with a 1-yard TD run, but the Gators hurt themselves with two pass interference calls—one against Lito Sheppard trying to stick with Minnis, the other on Todd Johnson, who was flagged for holding Minnis on the goal line. Florida was penalized 14 times for 116 yards.
Fans Rushed the Field
The Seminoles extended the lead to 27-7 on Weinke’s final TD pass—a 51-yarder to Minnis with 1:08 left in the quarter.
When Palmer tried to bring back the Gators, the Seminoles’ defense came up with big plays. First, free safety Chris Hope intercepted a pass intended for Reche Caldwell to stop one drive. Then, Tay Cody made his second interception of the game, this one off Grossman, and returned it 58 yards to set up Brett Cimorelli’s 33-yard field goal with 10:42 left in the game.
When the game ended, fans rushed the field to congratulate the players, and oranges were tossed onto the field.
Now comes the wait.
Florida State, third in the current BCS standings behind Oklahoma and Miami, is expected to move ahead of Miami when the new point totals are released Monday. Miami (9-1) beat Syracuse 26-0 on Saturday night and closes its season next week against Boston College.
The BCS standings are based on four components—the AP media poll and the coaches’ poll, eight computer rankings, strength of schedule and number of losses. Florida State is expected to gain ground in the strength of schedule and computer rankings.
“Again, I’ll leave it up to the computer,” Florida State coach Bobby Bowden said. “And it better not betray me.”
Key State Election Officials at Game
With the presidential race taking a backseat for the night, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, his secretary of state Katherine Harris and about 60 state legislators were part of the crowd that saw a contest that was decided in 3 hours, 20 minutes.
Florida State didn’t wait long to seize a 7-0 advantage. After forcing Florida to punt on the first series, the Seminoles took over and Weinke went to work, completing 6 of 8 passes for 70 yards, the final one a 17-yard TD toss to Atrews Bell just 5:49 into the game.
The Gators came right back on their next possession to make it 7-all. Palmer completed passes of 21 yards to tight end Aaron Walker and 29 yards to Jabar Gaffney before finishing off the 82-yard drive with a 5-yard TD pass to Walker.
The tie was broken 56 seconds later when Weinke found Bell for 42 yards and, on the next play, hit Minnis for a 34-yard touchdown pass.
While Weinke was accurate in the first quarter, he was intercepted twice in the second. Palmer didn’t fare much better.
First, Cody intercepted a pass by Palmer, but Weinke gave the ball back to the Gators on the next play when his pass was picked off by end Alex Brown, who returned the ball 22 yards to the Florida State 48.
The next time the Seminoles got the ball, Weinke moved them to the Gators 25 with completions of 19 yards to Anquan Boldin and 30 yards to Minnis. But Johnson intercepted Weinke’s next pass at the 11, was hit and fumbled but recovered the ball to stop the scoring threat.
Weinke came down with flu symptoms Friday and spent eight hours in the hospital taking intravenous liquids. He slept at team physician Kris Stowers’ house, and made it to the stadium healthy enough to lead the Seminoles to their biggest win of the season.
And perhaps a chance to defend their national championship.