WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – With Florida State locked in a tight affair with Wake Forest and the Seminoles’ offense struggling to find much of a rhythm, Jimbo Fisher had a message for his freshman quarterback.
“I said, ‘Listen, whoa, whoa, whoa,’” Fisher said. “’Why do you want to get frustrated and give them something? It’s a one-possession game. If you get one play, we’re right back in it.’”
One play, indeed.
After 58 minutes and 59 seconds of frustration in the passing game, James Blackman connected with Auden Tate for the play of his young career. And, maybe, the play of FSU’s 2017 season.
With just 1:01 left on the clock, Blackman took a snap, rolled to his right and hit Tate in stride for a 40-yard touchdown pass that lifted the Seminoles to a 26-19 victory over the Demon Deacons.
Tate, who spent the week recovering from a shoulder injury, made a diving grab despite having a Wake Forest defender draped on that ailing shoulder. Officials flagged the play for pass interference, but it didn’t matter.
A few moments later, Derwin James batted down Wake Forest’s desperation heave into the end zone and the Seminoles could celebrate a victory for the first time in exactly nine months.
They made the most of the opportunity.
“It had been so long since you felt it (a win),” Fisher said. “Since last year. … You can never take anything for granted, and how special winning is. How hard it is.”
The Seminoles aren’t likely to take this one for granted. Not after being out-gained by nearly 100 yards (367-270), and not after trailing, 19-16, in the fourth quarter.
But with their resolve being pushed to its breaking point – no FSU team had started 0-3 since 1976 – the Seminoles responded with an inspired stretch that included a game-tying field goal, two three-and-outs forced by the FSU defense and a perfect punt from Logan Tyler that landed at the Wake Forest 10-yard line, flipped the field and set the stage for a dramatic escape.
“Logan really does a good job of that,” Fisher said. “We’ve worked on that a lot. He does a good job with the rugby kicks.”
Tyler was part of a second straight strong effort for Florida State’s special teams. He averaged nearly 40 yards per punt with a career-long of 57, kicker Ricky Aguayo made all four field goal tries – pushing his streak of successful attempts to eight – and Keith Gavin broke loose for an 81-yard kick return that led to a touchdown.
That score belonged to Jacques Patrick, who did more than his part to keep FSU’s offense afloat during a trying first half.
The junior running back had one of the finer outings of his career, finishing with 146 total yards (120 rushing, 26 receiving) and ripping a 69-yard run in the first quarter that put the Seminoles in position for an early field goal.
Like any good running back, Patrick credited his lead blocker for sparking his big run.
“(Fullback Johnathan) Vickers opened it up, the offensive line was good,” Patrick said. “I just followed through the hole and just ran.”
Patrick’s touchdown cut a second-quarter deficit to 12-10, and FSU actually claimed its first halftime lead with an Aguayo field goal a few moments later.
Neither team, however, could gain much breathing room in the second half.
“Just two teams that fought very hard,” Fisher said. “We played well at times, we didn’t play well at times.”
They played well when they had to.
Like when Matthew Thomas brought down Wake Forest’s John Wolford for a 13-yard sack to halt the Demon Deacons when they were looking to extend their 19-16 lead.
Or when Blackman connected with Gavin for a 43-yard gain on third-and-20 on the drive that ended in Aguayo’s game-tying field goal.
And then, of course, when Fisher eschewed conventional logic and, instead of playing it safe with a minute to go, trusted a freshman quarterback making his first road start to throw the ball down the field.
“We’re not a field-goal-kicking team,” Thomas said. “We have to score. I knew we were going to try to score.”
Wake Forest maybe didn’t, which is why the Demon Deacons had just a single defensive back on Tate as he made his way to the end zone.
Once he felt his defender tug on his shoulder – and he really, really felt it – Tate figured he had at least drawn a pass-interference penalty and a 15-yard gain.
But, with the ball still within reach, Tate had no desire to leave things to chance.
“I was just trying to get my arm off him so I could try to make the catch,” Tate said. “And I got it out, last second.”
So, too, did FSU.
With their first win in the books, the Seminoles can turn things around in a hurry when they host No. 14 Miami next week (3:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN2). A win could get FSU back in the thick of the ACC race, as well as reassert the Seminoles’ dominance over the Hurricanes. FSU is aiming for an eighth-straight win over Miami that would be a record for either side in the series.
Fisher acknowledged that Florida State still has plenty of issues to work through, as well as several banged-up players who will be on the mend this week.
But facing those concerns is much more enjoyable after a win.
“It was a real big win for us to kind of build on that momentum,” Tate said. “Now, after that battle, (we feel it) just gave us a clean slate to build on, and now we’ve got Miami next week.”