ORLANDO – For three quarters of Saturday’s Garnet and Gold Game, Deondre Francois and Malik Henry flashed both the potential and the signs of inexperience that are typical of promising, young quarterbacks. By the time the fourth quarter arrived, Francois and Henry looked like seasoned pros. With Francois quarterbacking the Gold and Henry leading the Garnet, each of the freshman signal-callers led two scoring drives in the fourth quarter.
Trailing by three with just 13 seconds to go, Francois got the Gold within field goal range, and freshman kicker Ricky Aguayo did his part by making a 46-yarder that provided a 24-24 final score in front of 49,913 fans at the Citrus Bowl.
“I was very proud of the team today,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “I thought there was some good things, bad things. Like a spring game.”
Fisher equally praised Francois and Henry, who each bounced back from a few early miscues to finish with impressive outings.
Francois, a redshirt freshman from Orlando, completed 20 of 33 passes for 246 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
Meanwhile Henry, a true freshman who enrolled in January, threw for 205 yards and two scores on 15-of-22 passing.
“The two young quarterbacks, it was great to see them in that two-minute drive respond back and forth, make plays,” Fisher said. “…They were in charge and command of everything they did. And there were not any poor decisions. They weren’t careless with the ball as far as where they were going with it and making the right decisions.
“When they had a chance to make plays, they made them.”
Francois and Henry, along with third-year sophomore J.J. Cosentino (0 for 4 on Saturday), are challenging injured incumbent Sean Maguire to be FSU’s starter this fall.
Fisher liked what he saw from his quarterbacks on Saturday and throughout the spring, but, as expected, will allow the race to run its course through fall camp in August.
The Seminoles return to the Citrus Bowl for their season-opener against Mississippi on Sept. 6.
“They’re all going to compete for it in fall camp,” Fisher said. “And I’m anxious. The more we can put in that mix, the better.”
Based on Saturday’s results, it should be an intriguing race.
Francois, a redshirt freshman who earned rave reviews for his work with the scout team last season, showed off with both his arms and his legs. And, perhaps most impressively, he helped the Gold convert 8 of 13 third-down attempts.
He displayed strength by squeezing a 19-yard dart through a tight window to Ryan Izzo. And he used a deft touch to float a rainbow pass over the Gold secondary and into the waiting arms of Auden Tate for a 23-yard touchdown.
And when he couldn’t find an open man, Francois was happy to take off running.
Removing sack yardage, Francois carried four times for 50 yards and gouged the Garnet defense for gains of 25 and 20 yards.
“I was very pleased with decisions he made in the pocket with his legs,” Fisher said. “He scrambled and made some (plays). … That creates another problem for that defense.”
On the other side, Henry used his instincts and athleticism to make up for his inexperience.
After completing just 1 of 5 passes for three yards in the first half, the California native caught fire in the second half.
Henry connected on 82.3 percent of his attempts (14 of 17) in the second half, and he made his best throw of the day on a sideline pass to Travis Rudolph that went for a 43-yard touchdown.
He also scrambled and found receiver Jared Jackson for a five-yard TD earlier in the game.
“(Henry) doesn’t always know what he’s doing, but he’s hitting those guys he’s throwing it to,” Fisher said. “And that’s a pretty good habit when you play quarterback.
“He’s a very, very instinctive player on the field. You can see it.”
The quarterbacks may have been the main event Saturday, but they were hardly the only ones to take turns in the spotlight.
Tate, a sophomore receiver from Tampa, connected with Francois for 100 yards and two touchdowns on just six catches.
And both tight ends – Ryan Izzo (three catches for 36 yards) for the Gold and Mavin Saunders (5-55) for the Garnet – found success as safety valves for their respective quarterbacks.
“(Francois) was just finding me places,” Tate said. “I got open. Or if I wasn’t, he found ways to put it there.”
And with star running back Dalvin Cook sidelined after shoulder surgery, Jacques Patrick and Ryan Green each turned in promising performances.
Green, who transitioned to running back after a year at cornerback, led the Gold with 16 carries for 84 yards and a touchdown.
Patrick made the most of his limited opportunities – the Garnet ran just 15 plays in the first half – to finish with 32 yards and a score.
FSU entered the spring expecting Patrick to contribute. But Fisher believes that adding Green, a former high school All-American, into the fold could pay big dividends this fall.
“He’s got a chance to help us,” Fisher said.
Sophomore safety Derwin James, to no surprise, led all defenders with nine tackles, including five solo stops.
Safety Nate Andrews and Ro’Derrick Hoskins each grabbed an interception from Francois, and Hoskins appeared to have recovered a fumble before Francois was ruled down by contact.
Fisher said that on Francois’ first interception, the quarterback made the right decision. He just threw the ball a little short.
He “missed good,” Fisher said.
Perhaps the same can be said of the results here Saturday. Like their young quarterbacks, the Seminoles appear to be moving in the right direction. But they still have room to grow this summer.