Jan 1, 2002
Get Your Gator Bowl Gear Here!
By HANK KURZ Jr.
AP Sports Writer
JACKSONVILLE, Fla.- Chris Rix raced onto the field as the players filed off at the end of the Gator Bowl, looking for the man whose faith had helped him weather a difficult season at quarterback.
When he got to coach Bobby Bowden, the two embraced.
“I gave him a hug and said, `That was for you,”‘ the freshman said Tuesday after leading the No. 24 Seminoles to a 30-17 victory against No. 15 Virginia Tech in the Gator Bowl. “We told each other we loved each other. It was very important to get that win for him. He deserves it.”
The victory moved Bowden into a tie with Bear Bryant for second on the Division I-A wins list with 323, four behind Penn State’s Joe Paterno.
Bowden, though, didn’t want the focus on himself, not after Rix and his team put a solid finish on what had become a year for learning.
“It’s a funny thing. It’s something you nearly need to get out of the way. It can become a distraction,” the 72-year-old Bowden said. “And it sure doesn’t mean Bobby Bowden is in the same class with Bear Bryant.”
The victory extended to 16 Bowden’s unbeaten string in non-championship bowl games, and gave him 18 bowl wins, two behind Paterno.
And Rix, nearly benched by Bowden during the season, helped make it happen with a wrist-flicked pass under intense pressure that Javon Walker turned into a 77-yard touchdown to give the Seminoles the lead for good.
The pass sparked a 17-point fourth quarter that allowed the Seminoles (8-4) to put the Hokies (8-4) away, much as they did with an 18-point explosion in the final quarter of the 1999 Sugar Bowl championship game.
“The corner came down, wanted to intercept the ball and Javon just stuttered and blew by him,” Rix said. “I pumped it because I didn’t want to throw it into the corner and then just put it up as I got drilled.”
Rix was still on the ground when Walker scored, but when Rix came back out for the next series, he did it again, finding Walker behind corner Ronyell Whitaker again – this time for 50 yards – to set up a field goal.
Whitaker accepted the blame for the Hokies’ loss.
“I was kind of the reason we lost that game,” the all-Big East first-team cornerback said. “In fact, I know I was the reason we lost the game.”
But in truth, it was Rix, Walker and a defense that limited the Hokies to 95 yards in the fourth quarter that deserved the bulk of the credit.
Facing a third-and-5 from his own 23, Rix dropped back as the Hokies blitzed, saw Whitaker looking for an interception opportunity and Walker blazing by him, and waited before lofting the ball down the sideline.
“The coaches came in at the half and said, `We’re going to start throwing it up for you to make plays,”‘ Walker said. “That’s all I could ask and that’s what I came out and did in the second half today.”
After the Florida State defense stuffed Kevin Jones on a fourth-and-1 run from the Seminoles 32, Rix went right back to Walker, who again beat Whitaker for a 50-yard play to get it to the Hokies 18.
Xavier Beitia, who already kicked field goals of 50 and 47 yards, added a 35-yarder that banked through off the left upright to make it 23-17.
Rix also hit Walker with a 23-yard scoring pass with 2:14 left, giving the wideout four catches for 195 yards, a bowl record for Florida State.
Rix was 12-for-25 for 326 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
“The receivers did their job and made me look good,” Rix said.
Virginia Tech was held to 98 yards of offense in the first half, but used the long ball to score on its first two third-quarter possessions.
Grant Noel had completions of 30 yards to Andre Davis and 22 to Terrell Parham on the first drive, capped by Kevin Jones’ 5-yard run.
After Beitia’s 47-yard field goal, Richard Johnson returned the ensuing kickoff 38 yards to the Hokies 45 and Noel hit Davis with a short crossing pass two plays later, the sprinter racing 55 yards for a TD.
“It’s been two great games, I know that much,” Davis said of the meetings with the Seminoles. Davis had five catches for 158 yards.
Noel was 15-for-27 for 269 yards, but was sacked five times.
The second-half offense was a welcome site for a crowd of 72,202 after the first half showed why both teams came up short in their title hopes.
The Hokies had a 22-yard touchdown pass from Noel to Ernest Wilford brought back by a holding call, and Noel fumbled on the following play.
Eric Green intercepted Rix on the Seminoles’ second play, but Richard Johnson’s double-reverse pass to a wide-open Wilford was short, and the receiver dropped the ball inside the 10 after a hit by Malcolm Tatum.
As they did in the Sugar Bowl two years ago, the Seminoles took a page from the Hokies’ book and used a blocked punt to set up the only first-half touchdown drive. Marcello Church made the block, Ryan Reynolds recovered at the Hokies 1 and Rix dove it in on the next play.