WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – In the week leading up to Florida State’s game at Wake Forest, Auden Tate heard the story of how E.J. Manuel played on a broken leg to help Florida State beat Notre Dame in the 2011 Champs Sports Bowl.
And how, a few years later, Dalvin Cook pushed through a variety of hamstring, ankle and other ailments to carry the Seminoles to a 10-win season and an appearance in the Peach Bowl.
Inspired by their toughness, Tate held his breath, took the field and, knowing his hurting shoulder would be hurting much worse in a few hours, gave the Seminoles everything he could against the Demon Deacons.
FSU needed everything he had.
After spending much of the day in and out of the lineup, Tate delivered when it mattered most with a 40-yard touchdown catch that proved the difference in FSU’s 26-19 victory.
And Tate’s shoulder, still sore from landing on it during last week’s game against North Carolina State, might never have hurt more than when Wake Forest defensive back Amari Henderson grabbed onto it in an effort to break up the completion.
But Tate pushed through the pain, made the grab and sealed FSU’s first victory of the season.
“Oh, it hurt,” Tate said after the game, with his arm iced and in a sling. “But it feels a little better knowing that we got the win.”
The same probably goes for several hurting Seminoles. FSU has been beset injuries lately: Tate and starting linebacker Matthew Thomas (back) both missed large portions of the NC State game, linemen Derrick Kelly, Cole Minshew, Landon Dickerson and Rick Leonard all were banged up Saturday and, of course, starting quarterback Deondre Francois went down for the year late in the season opener against Alabama.
Maybe that’s why Tate’s effort meant so much, beyond just the final score.
With an 0-2 record, an opponent smelling an upset and several key players either missing with or limited by injuries, a lesser team might have folded and headed home.
But, led by Tate, these Seminoles wouldn’t let it happen.
“A lot,” Tate said when asked how much he hurt after the game. “I got some shots before the game, but it didn’t really do much. I had a minimum amount of plays, but I just tried to make every play I was in count.”
Junior running back Jacques Patrick was on the field for the touchdown, but after quarterback James Blackman faked a hand-off to him, Patrick turned his back to the play to block an incoming pass-rusher.
It wasn’t until the last possible moment that Patrick could look downfield and see what happened.
“For him to make that catch, with a shoulder injury, was big,” Patrick said. “That’s a guy that cares about the team. He gives 1000 percent. He gave it all he had.”
Coach Jimbo Fisher, meanwhile, saw Saturday’s game as perhaps the latest step in Tate’s evolution from promising talent to dependable leader.
The Seminoles entered the season looking to Tate and fellow junior Nyqwan Murray to fill the void left by the departures of Travis Rudolph, Kermit Whitfield and Bobo Wilson.
Part of that process, Fisher said, is learning how to play through pain – not through serious injuries, but pain.
“That’s part of growing up,” Fisher said. “If you’re going to play in this game, and play and be a great player, those are the kind of things that you’ve got to be able to do for your team when you’re banged and bruised. You can’t play a whole game, but you can find a way to contribute that way.
“It was a big-time deal by him.”
Safe to say that Tate’s game-winner left a lasting impression on his teammates.
It’s true that Saturday’s win was just the first of what the Seminoles hope is many more to come. But after a first month peppered with challenges, a big play that brought a big win was a welcome sight.
“(We were) excited because there were a lot of ‘down’ things going on this season,” Thomas said. “That was one of the more positive things, that touchdown. We all kind of celebrated together as a team, got this ‘W’ as a team and we feel good right now.”