TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Jimbo Fisher said earlier this week that Florida State was inches away from becoming the team it believed it could be at the start of the season.
In Saturday’s home game against Louisville, the Seminoles were seconds away.
Louisville kicker Blanton Creque kicked a 34-yard field goal with five seconds left that capped a wild, back-and-forth affair and lifted the Cardinals to a 31-28 victory over FSU at Doak Campbell Stadium.
The Seminoles then got the ball at their 25-yard line for one last play, but quarterback James Blackman was hit as he threw, and his pass fell incomplete.
FSU (2-4, 2-3 ACC) will look to bounce back on Friday at Boston College, while Louisville (5-3, 2-3) visits Wake Forest on Oct. 28.
“They are hurting again,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “It was a hurt locker room, because they knew they were that close. But when you play a team like Louisville … when you’ve got them down, you can’t let them up.”
Louisville’s decisive field goal defied the late-game momentum.
During the fourth quarter, the Seminoles had erased a 14-point deficit, stuffed Louisville’s high-powered offense on a fourth-and-1 and then driven to the Cardinals’ 21-yard line with two minutes to play.
But a pending sense of elation turned to dread when freshman James Blackman and Cam Akers fumbled a handoff; FSU’s third turnover over the game.
Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson then led an eight-play, 59-yard drive for the winning score.
“Anytime you have your defense playing its guts out and the offense is firing on all cylinders, when something like that happens it really hurts,” center Alec Eberle said. “Our backs were against the wall, trying to make the comeback. We weren’t going to give up. We were going to make the comeback and try and win that game.
“That hurts a lot when something like that happens.”
It made for a painful end to a game that had the potential to be a season-changing win.
The FSU defense had an admirable effort, holding the Cardinals well below their season averages for points (38.1) and total yards (567.5, 449 on Saturday) and holding Jackson mostly in check.
The reigning Heisman Trophy winner finished with 334 total yards – he came into the game averaging 430 per game – and did most of his damage on runs of 22, 23 and 51 yards.
“The defense did a great job,” Fisher said. “(Jackson) got that big scramble on that one play, which sometimes he’s going to have a play that you go, ‘OK, I’ve got him.’ (And you don’t). He gets one every game.”
And the Seminoles’ offense posted 403 total yards on the way to a season-high 28 points.
It started with a nine-play, 78-yard touchdown drive that answered Louisville’s opening score and seemed to be a harbinger of a shootout between two talented offenses.
But, in a bit of a plot twist, the two defenses took over for a while in a stretch highlighted by five combined punts and a turnover on downs, and punctuated by Matthew Thomas’ 34-yard fumble return for a touchdown that gave the Seminoles a 14-7 lead.
The fumble, forced by freshman Joshua Kaindoh, was FSU’s first defensive touchdown since a 2015 visit to Boston College.
“The ball popped out, so I just picked it up and ran,” Thomas said.
Louisville’s offense, however, found its footing on its next possession and tied the game with a 26-yard touchdown pass from Jackson to Seth Dawkins.
The Cardinals then reclaimed the lead on their first drive of the third quarter, and stretched their advantage to 28-14 after intercepting a deep Blackman pass a few moments later.
Louisville converted three FSU turnovers into 10 points.
“We have to have short-term memory, fix what we messed up and get ready to go again,” Eberle said. “That’s how football works.”
Despite all that, the Seminoles still gave themselves a chance to win the game, thanks in large part to receiver Nyqwan Murray.
Just one play after a fourth-down, roughing-the-passer penalty extended an FSU drive, Murray recovered a fumble in the Louisville end zone for a touchdown that cut FSU’s deficit to 28-21.
And, after the defense forced a three-and-out, Murray took things a step further with a 20-yard touchdown catch in tight coverage that tied the game with 8:58 to go.
The junior receiver finished with four catches for a season-high 95 yards, while Jacques Patrick and Cam Akers combined for 145 yards on the ground.
“It was good to see those guys make plays and runs. They did a great job,” Fisher said. “It was great to see them keep coming.”
Murray’s touchdown set the stage for the final moments, but, for the second time in as many home games, were on the hurting side of a dramatic, late outcome.
Two weeks ago, Miami downed FSU by scoring a go-ahead touchdown with six seconds to play. Saturday, it was a Louisville kicker who had already missed his only other attempt of the day.
In each case, the Seminoles were seconds – and inches – away from wins that could have given this season a much different feel.
Instead, Fisher vowed that, with five games to play, the Seminoles will keep pushing forward and keep fighting for the inches that have so far eluded their grasp.
And he’s confident that his team is up for the task.
“Without a doubt,” Fisher said. “The heart and soul and ability to compete and hustle and play hard ….
“There’s no quit in these kids. None. None, in any way, shape or form.”