MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – Deondre Francois and Nyqwan Murray have been friends since childhood, when they each were growing up in Orlando and long before either dreamed that they might one day play football together at Florida State.
On Friday, a lifelong bond between quarterback and receiver helped deliver the Seminoles an Orange Bowl championship.
Francois threw for 222 yards, while Murray caught two passes for 104 yards and both of Francois’ touchdown throws as FSU slipped past Michigan, 33-32, in the Capital One Orange Bowl at Hard Rock Stadium.
Murray caught the game-winning, 12-yard touchdown pass with 36 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
“Me and Deondre have a connection,” Murray said. “We’ve known each other since we were eight, so we’ve got that bond.”
That bond helped both Francois and Murray find redemption after some difficult plays earlier in the game.
Murray, one of FSU’s most exciting players over the second half of the season, suffered a miscue in the first quarter when he fumbled away a punt that Michigan recovered at the FSU 1-yard line.
The Seminoles led 7-0 at the time and had dominated the Wolverines in the game’s early moments.
“I was supposed to let it go, but I was just trying to make a play,” Murray said. “Bone-headed mistake.”
Thankfully for Murray, it didn’t cost the Seminoles too much: FSU’s defense made a three-play, goal-line stand and held the Wolverines to a field goal.
And, even better, when it came time for Michigan to punt again, on its very next drive, Fisher sent Murray back deep to return.
“He believed in me,” Murray said. “Trusted me.”
Murray rewarded Fisher’s trust by cleanly fielding the ball and returning it for a 7-yard gain.
Then, a little while later, he reminded everyone in the stadium exactly why he earned that trust in the first place.
With Florida State backed up to its 8-yard line and leading 10-3 late in the first quarter, Francois faked a handoff to Dalvin Cook, rolled to his left and scanned downfield, where he saw Murray streaking down the sideline without a defender anywhere nearby.
Francois’ deep throw hit Murray in stride, and the sophomore outran two Michigan defenders for a 92-yard touchdown that was the longest in Orange Bowl history.
“You have good plays and bad plays,” junior defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi said. “But it’s how you redeem that, how you overcome that. Because bad things are going to happen. You’ve got to keep working. They had to keep moving and that’s what they did and I’m proud of them.”
Francois and Murray weren’t yet finished. And, in the second half, it was Francois’ turn to bounce back.
Out of sorts for much of the night in the face of a physical Michigan pass rush, Francois completed just three of his next 15 passes after the long touchdown to Murray.
And the last incompletion of that stretch, an interception that Michigan’s Mike McCray returned for a touchdown, gave the Wolverines new life after a mostly dormant performance.
But rather than melt after a mistake, Francois gathered himself and delivered when it mattered most.
His 3-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter reestablished a two-possession lead.
Then, after the Wolverines stunned FSU with a pair of quick scores that gave them a 30-27 advantage, Francois guided the Seminoles on a four-play, 34-yard touchdown drive that finished with one of the best throws he’s made this season.
Florida State needed only a field goal to tie the game and send it to overtime. But on third-and-9 from the Michigan 12-yard line, Francois found his old friend Murray in single coverage to his left.
Francois floated a pass to the back corner of the end zone and Murray went up – over the head of All-America cornerback Jourdan Lewis – and made the catch that secured an Orange Bowl victory for FSU.
“All I thought in my mind was, ‘This is for all the money,’” Murray said. “The bright lights, all the attention was on me. I’ve been working hard all summer for this moment and it finally showed.”
“That’s my little brother there,” Francois said of Murray. “He’s been doing that all his life. … As soon as the ball left my hand, I knew he was going to come down with it.”
As far as Murray is concerned, the play wasn’t all that different than the ones he and Francois had worked on hundreds of times, whether in summer workouts or on the practice fields.
Or back home in Orlando, as eight-year-old kids far removed from the spotlight of the Orange Bowl.
“I practice on that route all the time,” he said. “Every summer, me and Deondre are working hard on the field, when nobody’s around, nobody’s looking.
“We’re up, late nights, watching film, doing anything to get better. And it showed tonight, how that connection paid off.”