TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – It was the type of drive that can define a quarterback’s career. And, had it lasted just a few seconds longer, it might have registered as one of the most memorable moments of Deondre Francois’ young tenure at Florida State. With his team trailing by six with 2:40 to go, Francois guided the Seminoles on a nine-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that took just 2:08.
But his star turn was overshadowed when UNC kicker Nick Weiler hit a 54-yard field goal as time expired.
The Tar Heels beat the Seminoles, 37-35, at Doak Campbell Stadium, which means that Francois’ first game-winning, fourth-quarter drive will have to wait. But his touchdown march at the end of the game – as well as the rest of his performance against the Tar Heels – gave further evidence that the redshirt freshman’s progress is right on schedule.
Or maybe even a little ahead of schedule.
“He did a nice job of keeping his poise, making the calls,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “… For the most part, he’s growing and understanding how to play the position of quarterback. And he gives the team a chance. He makes plays with his legs, makes plays with his arm and makes plays with his mind.”
Playing in just his second game at Doak Campbell Stadium, Francois completed 30 of 42 passes for 372 yards.
And although he didn’t throw a touchdown pass for the first time this season, Francois chipped in 32 yards and a score on the ground.
That touchdown, which capped off FSU’s go-ahead drive late in the fourth quarter, offered a glimpse at Francois’ speed, athleticism and toughness.
On second-and-goal from the 2-yard line, Francois took a shotgun snap and was almost immediately met in the backfield by a pair of UNC defenders.
He slipped away from one, ducked under another and then dove between two more Tar Heels, his arms stretching the ball across the goal line.
“Before I got the ball out of my hand, the whole defense flowed with the O-line,” Francois said. “I just tried to cut it back and make a play. I saw a guy out of my peripheral, luckily I broke a tackle and dove in the end zone.”
That touchdown gave the Seminoles their first lead of the game after trailing 21-0 in the first half.
“Two-minute drive, we do that (in practice) every Thursday,” said Francois, who connected on passes of 21, 41 and nine yards before plunging into the end zone. “We are all pretty confident. We rep it over and over, so we knew what was at stake. We knew what to do.”
While FSU’s comeback bid eventually fell short, Francois’ cool demeanor in a high-pressure moment made an impression with his teammates.
“Whatever play Coach Fisher called, (Francois) is going to get it done,” junior running back Dalvin Cook said. “The energy just came in the huddle from him. That’s the type of guy he is. No matter what they call, he’s like, ‘Let’s go with it.’ …
“That’s the type of player he is. He’s a dog. He’s a warrior. I will go to war with him any day.”