TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – For about 19 seconds, the Florida State Seminoles appeared to have done it again. After spotting North Carolina a 21-point lead midway through the first half, FSU flirted with a rally that would have made for its largest comeback victory in the history of Doak Campbell Stadium. Dalvin Cook was spectacular, Deondre Francois looked like a star in the making and the Seminoles’ defenders, stretched to their limits by North Carolina’s hurry-up offense, blocked a UNC extra-point attempt that gave FSU a window to escape with a victory.
And when Francois evaded pressure and scrambled into the end zone with 23 seconds to play, the Seminoles appeared to have crawled through that window, ready to emerge with a one-point win.
The Tar Heels, however, had other ideas. With two timeouts in hand, UNC used a deep completion and an ill-timed pass interference penalty to reach FSU’s 37-yard line with 4 seconds on the clock.
UNC kicker Nick Weiler then stepped up and drilled his 54-yard field goal through the uprights to give the Tar Heels a stunning, 37-35 victory.
It was the longest field goal of Weiler’s career.
“We had them for a minute,” senior defensive end DeMarcus Walker said. “You’ve got to give North Carolina credit.”
Florida State falls to 3-2 and is 0-2 in ACC play for the first time since 2011. The Seminoles will have to move on from this one quickly – they’ve got a date with coach Mark Richt and the No. 11 Miami Hurricanes next week.
“We’ve got to keep these guys up and get ready for practice on Monday,” junior running back Dalvin Cook said. “We have another football game come Saturday.”
Cook certainly did his part against the Tar Heels.
A week after rushing for a career-high 267 yards against South Florida, Cook torched UNC (4-1, 2-0 ACC) for 246 total yards and became the first Seminole to have at least 100 yards rushing (140) and receiving (106) in the same game.
Cook scored three touchdowns, two in the second half, and his 41-yard catch-and-run on FSU’s final drive set up Francois for the go-ahead score.
Francois had one of the best games of his young career, too. He completed 20 of 32 passes for 372 yards, and he added another 32 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
“We went out there and did our part on the offensive side,” Cook said. “But we are a team. We win as a team. We lose as a team. So we’ve got to put our defense in a better situation. We’ve just got to play better.”
Despite big days from UNC’s Mitch Trubisky (31-38, 405 yards, 3 TDs) and Ryan Switzer (14 catches, 158 yards), FSU actually outgained the Tar Heels, 595-538, and controlled the ball for nearly 35 minutes.
But UNC’s ability to excel in key situations – especially on third down – proved the difference.
North Carolina converted nine of 13 third-down attempts, compared to a 4-for-11 from FSU.
And, after a week’s reprieve, the Seminoles again struggled with penalties. They were flagged 13 times for 120 yards, while UNC committed just six penalties for 49 yards.
“Everyone took turns making the mistakes,” Francois said. “Against a good team like North Carolina, you can’t do that. Those were self-inflicted wounds that hurt us.”
Then again, the Tar Heels suffered some self-inflicted wounds of their own that helped the Seminoles work their way back into the game.
– A lost fumble at the FSU 5-yard line late in the second quarter. The Tar Heels led 21-7 at the time and were set to receive the ball to start the third quarter.
– A roughing the punter call that gave the Seminoles a first down after facing a second-and-32 just two plays before. That penalty, which occurred just moments after officials reversed a safety call that would have made the score 30-14, led to a Cook TD run that cut FSU’s deficit to seven.
– An extra-point attempt blocked by Walvenski Aime that held the Seminoles’ deficit to six points.
That last miscue seemed enough to doom the Tar Heels’ upset bid, as Ricky Aguayo’s extra-point after FSU’s ensuing touchdown made it 35-34.
Aguayo had missed two field-goal attempts and had another one blocked earlier in the game.
Weiler, the UNC kicker, hadn’t fared much better when he trotted out on the field to kick his game-winner. The senior had missed his only attempt of the game – a 51-yarder – to go
along with the PAT block, and he entered the game having missed 4 of his 6 attempts this season.
But once Weiler’s last-second kick left his foot, there was never a doubt where it was headed.
“Once it went in, I knew the game was over,” Francois said. “That’s it.”