Nov. 20, 2011
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Normally a potentially game-winning field goal by one of the nation’s top kickers in front of his home crowd would be one preceded by excitement and followed by either jubilation or despair.
There’s the build-up for the plays leading to the kicking situation and the high or low reaction depending on whether or not the football flies through the uprights. It’s standard stuff. These type of situations happen all the time.
But this wasn’t a normal game between Florida State and new-and-improved Virginia. Far from it.
Seminoles.com Senior Writer
|Follow me on Twitter|
No. 23/25 FSU lost to UVa, 14-13, Saturday night after Dustin Hopkins’ missed a 43-yard potential game-winner in the final few seconds. But it wasn’t Hopkins’ uncharacteristic and unlikely miss that was the lasting storyline as senior night was spoiled inside Doak Campbell Stadium.
No, this time it was that build-up that stole the headlines. Not the outcome of the kick.
After holding the Cavaliers (8-3, 5-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) to 241 yards of total offense through 58:07 of a 60-minute slugfest, the Seminoles (7-4, 5-3) allowed Virginia to score what would turn out to be the game-winning touchdown on a 10-yard run by Kevin Parks at the conclusion of a 37-second, 75-yard drive in the final moments.
With 1:16 left and trailing by just one point, EJ Manuel was sacked on 4th-and-1 in what appeared to be a Cavs’ game-clincher but it was ruled that he was brought down with the aid of a facemask.
Three plays after the 15-yard penalty and well within Hopkins’ range at the Virginia 30-yard line, Manuel appeared to connect with Bert Reed on a completion that would have stunningly ended the game because he was short of the first-down marker and did not get out of bounds. But while the Cavs bench was celebrating and the ‘Noles faithful were shaking their heads, a booth review revealed that Reed never had possession and FSU would in fact get one more chance for a 48-yard field goal try.
Meanwhile, many of the Virginia players had already retreated to the locker room to celebrate further and the lengthy delay of the review was extended as all the players from both benches were put into position.
If that wasn’t enough, the Cavaliers were then called for a five-yard penalty before the special-teams snap and it pushed Hopkins even closer to what would have been game-winning glory land.
“We’ve got to manage that situation at the end better,” Fisher said. “We don’t need to catch that ball. We work on it every day; eight seconds or less we throw it if you catch and can get out you do, if you don’t you knock it down. We were fortunate that we didn’t catch it right there. But that’s something we practice every week and work on.”
Hopkins, who made a pair of field goals earlier in the game, may have missed his final attempt but Saturday’s outcome won’t be solely placed on his gold cleats.
FSU was penalized 11 times for 94 yards and Manuel had perhaps his worst game of the 2011 season. FSU’s leader under center finished 18-of-23 for 200 yards with one touchdown and a fumble that lead to a Perry Jones’ second-quarter score.
FSU was just 3-of-13 on third-down conversions on offense and didn’t force a third down defensively on UVa’s quick game-winning drive.
“We are making some young mistakes but we should be older,” Fisher said. “You’re not a freshman anymore, you’re not a sophomore, you’re not a junior. It’s the end of the year. Those all need to stop. Very disappointing. This team was doing some really good things and they still had an opportunity at the end we just didn’t make the play. Had some great opportunities, that’s for sure.”
For the several things that FSU didn’t do well on Saturday night, the running game wasn’t one of them. The ‘Noles eclipsed 100 yards rushing in the first half for the first time since last year’s win at Virginia and finished with 186 yards on the ground in total, including a game-best 69 yards by senior Jermaine Thomas.
Also playing in his final home game at Doak Campbell Stadium was Reed, whose 104 yards receiving led both teams. Senior Ja’Baris Little picked his final game in his hometown of Tallahassee to catch the first touchdown of his career.
Fourth-year linebacker Nigel Bradham finished with a team-high 13 tackles for a defensive unit that limited the Cavaliers to just 78 yards rushing on 29 attempts and 316 yards of total offense. Cavs quarterback Micahel Rocco finished the night 22-of-31 for 238 yards and his team was two-for-two in the redzone.
With the victory, UVa will face rival Virginia Tech next weekend with the winner of that game claiming the ACC’s Coastal Division crown.
“Virginia hung in the game; made enough plays to win at the end, made the play they needed to make, had the drive they needed to get,” Fisher said. “It was all on us as far as keep leaving them in the game. They kept hanging and scratching and clawing. That’s my fault because obviously it’s got to start at the top. There’s no one play that lost that game; it was a conglomerate of them across the board.”
On FSU’s second possession of the game, freshman Rashad Greene took a reverse handoff 53 yards into scoring position but the Seminoles came away empty handed. Right tackle Bobby Hart missed a block and UVa’s Billy Schautz came cleanly around the end to sack Manuel and force the fumble.
The Cavaliers turned the takeaway into seven points when Jones capped off a long drive with his seven-yard touchdown reception to give the visitors a 7-0 lead with 14:56 left in the second quarter.
Ten minutes later on the game-clock, that score changed to 7-7 when Manuel found his former roommate for the one-yard touchdown. Little’s scoring grab capped off an 11-play, 75-yard drive that featured a few signature Manuel plays. On third and long he bought time and fired a laser to Reed and then later scrambled in crowd-pleasing fashion down to the goal line.
FSU would later add a 26-yard field goal by Hopkins after a 34-yard Greg Reid punt return. Hopkins’ kick gave the ‘Noles a 10-7 lead heading into halftime.
Midway through the third quarter, Reed’s career-long 68-yard reception then put the Seminoles at the one-yard line. But FSU couldn’t punch it in and had to settle for another Hopkins field goal — this time from 21 yards out — to extend its lead to 13-7 where it would remain until the final two minutes.
FSU now concludes its regular season with its annual showdown against Florida. This year’s edition of the state battle takes place in Gainesville at 7 p.m. and will air on ESPN2.