TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – It took until well after midnight, but the Florida State football team claimed its first victory of the Willie Taggart Era with a 36-26 win over Samford on Saturday night. Here’s a look at the game’s key players and decisive moments.
Game ball: Somewhat lost in Saturday’s dramatics was one of the better games of Deondre Francois’ career: 31 of 46, 320 yards, three touchdowns through the air and another one on the ground.
Francois’ most important number, however, might have been zero. As in zero interceptions. And on a night when he found himself locked in a quarterback’s duel with Samford’s Devlin Hodges, that might have made all the difference.
Hodges, the Southern Conference player of the year, had 475 yards and two TDs, but was also picked off four times.
“I thought Deondre showed a lot of leadership without even saying anything,” coach Willie Taggart said. “Just the way he was taking hits and getting back up and sitting in there, making throws. You could hear him on the sideline – it would be hard for his teammates not to want to make a play, just listening to him on the sideline and talking to his guys and encouraging them.”
Play of the game: Francois will make tougher throws this season. And Tre’ McKitty will make tougher catches. But given the circumstances, Francois’ five-yard touchdown pass to McKitty late in the fourth quarter was about as big as it gets.
Not only did it give the Seminoles their first lead of the game and help to ensure they’d be spared a loss to an FCS team, but it also gave them their first lead of the season.
It also came on a third-and-goal from the 5-yard line, after the Seminoles had already seen two missed field-goal attempts. They had to have it.
Deondre Francois tosses TD pass No. 3 to put @FSUFootball up for good!
— ACC Digital Network (@theACCDN) September 9, 2018
“We finally got a drive going,” McKitty said. “We were kind of getting some things going during the game, and then stopping. But that time we finished through. Coach made some great calls, and we finished.”
Turning point: Early in the fourth quarter, Samford was driving toward a touchdown that would’ve given the Bulldogs a nine-point lead and put the Seminoles in seriously dire straits. Samford struck for nine, seven, 19 and 21 yards on consecutive plays to start the possession, and with first-and-10 at the FSU 19-yard line seemed to be cruising to the end zone.
But sparked by pressure from Marvin Wilson and Jaiden Woodbey, the Seminoles then forced three straight incompletions and the Bulldogs had to settle for a 36-yard field goal.
FSU took the lead on its ensuing drive.
“I’m thankful we were able to get out of there with a win,” cornerback Kyle Myers said. “To get over the adversity we faced, we finally got over the hump.”
It was over when: Levonta Taylor did this …
— FSU Football (@FSUFootball) September 9, 2018
It was Taylor’s second pick-six in four games (he had one in Gainesville last year), and it was more than just empty calories: The Bulldogs were on the move at the FSU 41-yard line when Taylor stepped in front of Hodges’ sideline pass and took it for an easy touchdown.
“When I saw him make that interception, I jumped up out of my seat,” McKitty said.
“That was Levonta being Levonta,” Meyers added. “That guy is special.”