TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – It’s a photo that’s destined to hang in Florida State’s football offices.
Or maybe to become one of the larger-than-life, mural-style portraits that decorate FSU’s players’ lounge.
From left to right, Deondre Francois, DeMarcus Walker and Dalvin Cook stand atop the brick wall surrounding the field at Doak Campbell Stadium, each crowded by adoring fans and each wearing the type of grin that comes only after a win like the one they experienced on Saturday night.
Florida State beat Florida, 31-13, and all three players in that photo helped make it happen.
Cook with his 153 yards and a touchdown that painfully – and once again – reminded the Gators what they missed when they let him slip through their fingers as a high-school recruit.
Walker with two crucial sacks and two fumble recoveries that led to touchdowns, a symbol for FSU’s defensive dominance over Florida, not just on Saturday but also for the last several years.
And Francois with a performance that won’t stand out to those who only look at the box score, but that coach Jimbo Fisher described as a “huge” step in his development.
Big games are often defined by star power, and Florida State’s stars shined brightest against the Gators.
“This is the big game you dreamed of when you were a kid,” Cook said. “So why not give it your all?”
‘Icing on the cake’
The chants started around 11:20 p.m. – well before the game ended but well after it had been decided.
“Dal-vin Cook! Dal-vin Cook!”
He certainly gave the fans plenty to cheer about.
Making his third appearance in the Sunshine State Showdown, Cook made one of the nation’s best defenses look ordinary.
Cook’s 153 rushing yards were the most allowed by Florida this season, and he helped the Seminoles take advantage of an early UF turnover with a 17-yard touchdown to open the scoring.
That touchdown was the 45th of Cook’s career, which surpassed Greg Allen for the most rushing scores in school history, and it came just one week after Cook became FSU’s all-time leader for career rushing yardage.
The fact that it happened against Florida was, as Cook put it, “icing on the cake.”
“If you want to be a great player,” he said, “your expectations going into a game like that have got to raise.”
Added Fisher: “I’ll tell you what: You’re blessed to coach certain guys in your career, and he’s one of them. I can’t say enough about him.
“We see the player and the toughness and all that, but, man, the selflessness, the leadership, him on the sideline and encouraging and the way he was at halftime with our guys. Man, whew, what a dadgum football player.”
As a junior, Cook is eligible to enter the NFL draft next spring and, unsurprisingly, would likely be a high pick if he were to declare.
Cook, for his part, declined to answer questions about his future, citing that the Seminoles still have another game to play.
Just in case, though, the fans who stayed late into Sunday morning made sure that the star running back knew exactly how they felt about him.
“Dal-vin Cook! Dal-vin Cook!”
And Cook returned the favor, lingering on the field and making sure to high-five just about anyone who reached out to him before finally making his way to the locker room.
“I enjoyed every moment out there with the fans,” he said. “That’s the type of fans we’ve got – you do great things for this program, they reward you.”
‘They aren’t going to forget me forever’
Walker did his best to keep a low profile throughout the week.
A Jacksonville native who grew up in the heart of Gator country, Walker after last week’s game at Syracuse said, “You know how I feel about the Gators.” Otherwise, Walker said he didn’t want to give UF any bulletin-board material.
Instead, he let his play on Saturday do the talking. And it’s safe to say the Gators got the message.
Walker posted two fourth-quarter sacks and recovered two UF fumbles as the Seminoles held the Gators’ offense out of the end zone for a second straight year.
With a fourth straight victory over UF in hand and unassailable bragging rights for the rest of his life, Walker wasn’t so shy after the game.
“Those Gator fans are very arrogant,” Walker said. “But now they know who DeMarcus Walker is. And they aren’t going to forget me forever.”
Walker is part of a senior class that is 4-0 against Florida. And, save for his freshman year when he didn’t play against UF, Walker can say he had a hand in all of them.
He had six tackles and a tackle for loss as a sophomore in 2014. Then he had one of the most memorable games of his career last year in Gainesville, posting six tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, a forced fumble and a blocked field goal.
And the most important stat: Eight wins for Walker and Florida State over Florida and Miami during the last four years. And zero losses.
“Sensational,” Walker said. “Point blank, I’m very happy.”
Florida State fans won’t forget Walker any time soon either. He posted his 15thsack of the season on Saturday night, the most for any Seminole defender since Andre Wadsworth had 16 in 1997.
And with 27.5 sacks for his career, Walker joined some elite company. He now sits third in school history behind only Reinard Wilson (35.5 sacks) and Peter Boulware (34.0).
Walker revealed Saturday night that etching his name alongside the likes of Wilson and Boulware was one of his goals at the start of the season. Those two were each named consensus All-Americans in 1996, and, as the nation’s leader in sacks, Walker could be well on his way his to joining them in that honor as well.
“When people say, ‘pass rushing,’ they say, ‘Peter Boulware and Reinard Wilson,’” Walker said. “Well, now they can say, ‘Peter Boulware, Reinard Wilson and DeMarcus Walker.’”
‘About as good as it gets’
Deondre Francois’ numbers don’t jump off the stat sheet.
He completed 15 of 26 passes for 138 yards and a touchdown, but he also threw an interception and lost a fumble.
Fisher, however, saw progress in Francois’ game that transcends statistics.
Because after each of his two turnovers – one a head-scratching interception, the other a fumble which came after a high hit that both Francois and Fisher believed should’ve been penalized – Francois bounced back and guided the Seminoles on two crucial touchdown drives that helped put the Gators away.
“He was as awesome tonight as any game that he goes and throws it 400 yards,” Fisher said. “I see things differently. I see development. … He made some mistakes, he did this, he did that. And, boom, he was able to trigger back.”
Along the way, Francois enjoyed two of his most impressive plays of the season.
The first, a 46-yard touchdown strike to Travis Rudolph, happened as Francois stood in the pocket, found a soft spot in Florida’s secondary and delivered perfect throw over the middle of the field.
The play came on third-and-10 and with FSU leading just 10-6 in the third quarter. And it occured just moments after Francois was picked off by UF’s Chauncey Gardner.
“After he had a big interception on third down, I said, ‘You’re going to have a heck of a chance,’” Fisher said. “That’s the thing about him, he trusts what we say – when you’re out of whack, go back to fundamentals. And he stuck that thing in there. …
“That’s about as good as it gets.”
Francois, however, wasn’t finished.
After losing a fumble during a violent collision with Florida’s Marcell Harris, Francois gathered himself and came back on to the field for FSU’s ensuing possession.
Four plays later, Francois ran up the middle, through the heart of UF’s third-ranked defense and into the end zone for an eight-yard touchdown. It didn’t mean much for the game’s outcome, but it meant an awful lot to Francois and his teammates.
Normally one of the most stoic Seminoles, Francois jumped up and down in the back of the end zone and let out a yell before center Alec Eberle found him for a bear hug.
“I was so heated,” Francois said. “I was so excited just to do it for the seniors. I feel like that touchdown really sealed the deal. And the fumble before, I feel like, either way, we should have got that ball back – whether I was down (before the fumble), or that it was targeting.
“So when the defense came up with a huge stop, Coach (Fisher) called the play again and that showed me that he really trusted me.”
‘That’s some good stuff’
By Sunday morning, several different versions of that photograph had emerged from a handful of photographers.
Some are tight on the subjects, others shot from the left or right. Some are panned out to show the full scope of the crowd behind them.
All show those same grins, although some capture Walker looking like he’s just exhaled after a long night of work.
This group of Seminoles has one more game together. And, in a nice twist of fate, most projections have FSU playing in either Cook’s hometown of Miami (for the Orange Bowl), Walker’s hometown of Jacksonville (Taxslayer Bowl) or Francois’ hometown of Orlando (Russell Athletic or Citrus Bowl).
“That’s some good stuff, right there,” Cook said.
Recent history suggests that Cook, Francois and Walker will turn in one more special memory before the 2016 Seminoles wrap up the year, and before Walker finishes what has been one of the best four-year careers in recent school history.
But no matter what happens, they’ll be hard-pressed to beat the scene at Doak Campbell Stadium on Saturday night.
And they’ve got the picture to prove it.