Sept. 8, 2009
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The No. 18 Florida State football team fell in heartbreaking fashion Monday night to visiting Miami, 38-34.
With just five seconds remaining and the ball positioned on the Hurricanes’ two yard-line, FSU quarterback Christian Ponder’s potential game-winning pass to Jarmon Fortson hit the ground in the endzone as time expired.
“Doggone I thought we had it,” head coach Bobby Bowden said in the postgame press conference. “It was a typical Miami-Florida State game. They have good players and we have good players. They just made more plays than we did in the end.”
Those late Miami (1-0, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) plays put the Seminoles (0-1, 0-1) on the ropes in the fourth quarter as Miami held a 24-23 advantage early on in the final period.
Blitzing from the cornerback position, true freshman Greg Reid violently slammed into ‘Canes quarterback Jacory Harris and forced a wobbly pass that was intercepted and returned 31 yards for the go-ahead score by FSU defensive end Markus White.
The Seminoles then added a two-point conversion to go up 31-24.
Showing his short memory and ability to bounce back from a big hit, Harris then led a scoring drive on Miami’s ensuing possession that knotted the score at 31-31 with just over seven minutes to play.
Following a 45-yard field goal by Seminoles true freshman kicker Dustin Hopkins with 4:11 remaining in the game, the Hurricanes marched down the field once again and Miami tailback Graig Cooper bounded into the endzone from three yards to give his team what would turn out to be the game-winning score.
For the game, the Seminole defense allowed Harris to complete 21 of his 34 pass attempts for a career-best 386 yards and two scores. Wide receiver Travis Benjamin accounted for 128 of those yards.
The one bright spot for the FSU defenders Monday night? Stopping the run as Miami mustered just 90 yards on 30 attempts.
“We held them against the run better than I thought we would because we’ve had tackle problems with injuries,” Bowden said. “We held them against the run better but boy, (there were) too many `gimme’ touchdowns. They deserve it because they schemed us. They put this guy here and that guy here so that we would mess up and we messed up.”
Offensively, Ponder finished with a career-high 294 yards on 24-for-41 passing. He tossed two touchdown passes but also had an interception.
Richard Goodman and Bert Reed both had five catches apiece for the Seminoles for a combined 145 yards. Six other FSU players also grabbed a reception. On the ground, Ty Jones had a game-high 59 yards but the ‘Noles had just 110 rushing yards.
“We fought, we never quit and that’s good for the team character,” FSU left guard and All-America candidate Rodney Hudson said. “We had a chance to win the game and at the same time that (final) possession did not lose the game if we had done something better earlier. It’s not one man’s fault it’s all of our faults. We played hard though.”
Down 14-10 at the start of the third quarter, Reid’s 29-yard kick return sparked a scoring drive that allowed the Seminoles to recapture the lead.
After completions to Goodman and Rod Owens put the ‘Noles in scoring position, Ponder’s nifty nine-yard touchdown run pushed the score to 16-14 before a missed extra point.
A few minutes later, Reid once again served as the catalyst for a Florida State scoring drive. After his interception of Harris deep in Seminole territory, the FSU offense kicked into high gear.
First Ponder hooked up with Goodman for a 28-yard gain and then a few plays later wide receiver Louis Givens took a reverse handoff 13 yards. Wide receiver Taiwan Easterling then proved the ruptured Achilles tendon he sustained in the spring was a thing of the past as he grabbed a pass and grinded out a 21-yard touchdown reception to put FSU on top 23-14.
Rated the consensus No. 1 kicker as a high school senior a year ago, Hopkins didn’t wait long to make his presence known in a rivalry that has historically featured the kickers.
The Houston, Texas native put an exclamation point on a 64-yard drive as he set a new school record for an FSU player’s first career kick with a 52-yard field goal. The lengthy three-point play put FSU on top 10-7 with 2:50 remaining before halftime.
Unfortunately for the Seminoles, the excitement of Hopkins’ successful debut was short lived as Miami had an answer.
On the ensuing drive, Harris orchestrated a 75-yard drive that was culminated by a five-yard Javarris James touchdown dive.
FSU tried to answer but Ponder’s attempted pass to Goodman in the endzone was intercepted by Miami safety Randy Phillips just before intermission.
Florida State scored its first touchdown of the young season on the team’s very first offensive possession.
Already trailing 7-0 after an opening-drive Miami score, Ponder capped off a 13-play drive with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Piurowski in the back left side of the north endzone.
It’s now a short week for the Seminoles as they will begin preparations to host Jacksonville State at home on Saturday at 6 p.m.
ESPN will air that ballgame online at www.espn360.com.
“I hope the guys see it as an opportunity,” Ponder said. “We have an opportunity to bounce back and what we saw tonight we have a good football team. We have 11 more games and this is game number one.”