Jan. 1, 2005
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Nice recovery, Chris Rix.
Coach Bobby Bowden stuck with his struggling quarterback and Rix eventually sparked No. 17 Florida State with two long second-half touchdown drives Saturday, beating West Virginia 30-18 in the Gator Bowl.
“Chris played kind of like his career has gone,” Bowden said. “That’s what’s been missing all year. We finally got it, but now the season is over.”
For Rix, the inconsistent performance provided a fitting end in his final game. At least it didn’t end with a loss as the Seminoles (9-3) overcame mistake after mistake to avoid an unprecedented third straight bowl setback.
Bowden, facing his former school for the first time since the 1982 Gator Bowl, moved within one bowl win of Joe Paterno’s NCAA record of 19 at Penn State.
Rix fumbled three times and threw two interceptions, one of which led to a touchdown. So at halftime, Bowden thought about replacing Rix.
“It wouldn’t have taken much more,” the coach said.
Rix eventually settled down, completing five straight passes during a 90-yard drive late in the third quarter, capped by his 14-yard TD pass to Craphonso Thorpe. Thorpe leaped for the ball over Dee McCann in the right corner of the end zone for a 23-15 lead.
It was only Rix’s third TD pass of the season.
“We were good throwing today when we had to,” said Florida State offensive coordinator Jeff Bowden.
Rix also led an 80-yard scoring drive in the fourth, capped by James Coleman’s 1-yard run. Rix finished 16-of-31 for 157 yards.
“Statistically, I didn’t have the game I wanted,” Rix said. “But the biggest thing is that we won.”
Leon Washington carried Florida State much of the day, finishing with 195 yards rushing.
Quarterback Rasheed Marshall and West Virginia’s platoon of running backs shredded the nation’s top run defense for 238 yards. Kay-Jay Harris carried 25 times for 134 yards and scored twice.
But the Mountaineers (8-4) failed to find the end zone three times after advancing inside the 20-yard line.
“We prepared well. The focus was good. The effort was good. We just made some mistakes,” said West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez. “You make mistakes against good teams, especially like Florida State, it’s going to cost you the game. It’s as simple as that.”
West Virginia has lost 11 of its last 12 bowls games and is 0-5 in the Gator.
West Virginia, the only unranked team playing in a New Year’s Day bowl, continued special teams miscues that were costly in losses to Boston College and Pittsburgh to end the regular season.
In the first half, two kickers missed extra point, Brad Cooper booted a kickoff out of bounds, and the Mountaineers later faked a 27-yard field goal attempt, but couldn’t convert the first-down run.
“We weren’t real confident on kicking field goals after we missed a couple of extra points,” Rodriguez said.
Backup Andy Good practiced his kicks feverishly before the start of the third quarter, and it paid off. He made field goals of 44 and 34 yards to cut the deficit to 23-18 early in the fourth period.
The game featured the preseason favorites of the Big East and Atlantic Coast Conference who couldn’t secure BCS berths.
The Seminoles needed only six plays to score a season-high 10 points in the first quarter.
Washington went 69 yards down the right sideline on the game’s second play for the longest TD run in Gator Bowl history. He had 135 yards by halftime and had only 12 carries for the game, or else he might have challenged the Gator Bowl record of 216 yards by Syracuse’s Floyd Little against Tennessee in 1966.
It was a start similar to last year’s Gator Bowl, when Maryland scored 10 early points, led 24-0 at halftime and beat West Virginia 41-7.
This time, West Virginia fought back.
Harris scored on a 36-yard screen pass on the Mountaineers’ first offensive series. McCann intercepted Rix later in the quarter and Marshall threw a 40-yard pass to Chris Henry to the 1. Harris took it in for a 12-10 lead.
After the game, Henry, a junior who set a school record with 12 TD catches this season, said he intends to enter next spring’s NFL draft.
Florida State’s Lorenzo Booker had 101 yards rushing on 20 carries. The Seminoles were penalized 17 times for 174 yards, both Gator Bowl records.
The Gator Bowl is sponsored by Toyota.
AP Sports Writer