TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – With his team in a place that it never wanted to be – facing overtime with ULM of the Sun Belt Conference – Willie Taggart rallied his Seminoles and delivered a brief but passionate message.
“Seize the moment,” he told them. “Don’t be afraid of it. Go take care of business.”
Florida State did just that by scoring a touchdown and converting the extra point on its first possession of overtime.
ULM did not.
Because after the Warhawks scored the touchdown that put a four-hour game on the verge of double-overtime, sophomore kicker Jacob Meeks delivered an unexpected twist: He pushed his point-after attempt wide right. And, in that instant, the game was over.
Florida State 45, ULM 44.
In the week since dropping the season opener to Boise State, Taggart has preached about the importance of finding a way to win.
The Seminoles had to turn over a few rocks to find this one, but never mind that for at least a few moments. The record book will still say 1-1 when FSU opens ACC play at Virginia next week (7:30 p.m., ACC Network).
“Like I said before, our football team is still learning how to win,” Taggart said in his postgame press conference. “And they found a way tonight to get a ‘W.’”
Taggart then said what seemingly all of the 52,969 people in attendance Saturday night were thinking.
“It wasn’t pretty,” he said. “But our guys did find a way to get that ‘W.’”
There likely won’t be any disagreements on either count.
Not that anyone in Florida State’s locker room minded too much in the moment.
“It’s hard to get a win,” said quarterback James Blackman, who completed 30 of 40 passes for 282 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions.
“It’s not like Louisiana-Monroe is just picking guys from anywhere. They have players, too, and guys that want to win. It was a great feeling, honestly, to finally get that win.”
ULM at least made sure that it didn’t come easily.
By the middle of the second half, things had unfolded in a remarkably similar fashion as they had the week before.
Which meant bad things for FSU.
The Seminoles again started fast, scoring the game’s first 21 points and seemingly cruising toward a lopsided victory.
They then went cold, hitting a wall in the second half as their opponent slowly chipped away at what once was a comfortable lead.
The FSU defense, meanwhile, once again had a hard time defending the run (ULM averaged 4.6 yards per carry) and holding on third down (ULM was 6 for 15, but 4 for 7 in the second half). And this time, coordinator Harlon Barnett’s group gave itself another hurdle – penalties. The Seminoles were flagged 11 times on Saturday night (compared with five last week), and five of those infractions were against the defense or special teams.
That includes an unnecessary roughness penalty that led to ULM’s game-tying field goal late in the fourth quarter.
“When you have 11 penalties, bad things happen,” Taggart said. “And I felt that was a big, big reason why we were in the situation we were.”
Saturday’s game, however, diverged from last week’s in one key respect.
This time, when the Seminoles fell behind, they had an answer.
Rather than fall to the mat, they punched back.
“They didn’t get down or point a finger at anything,” Taggart said. “They stayed locked in and focused. You heard a lot of guys talking on the sideline about how we were going to win this game.”
They did, thanks in large part to running back Cam Akers, who totaled 248 yards (193 rushing, 55 receiving) and three touchdowns.
Akers’ 36 carries broke a 21-year-old school record for most in a game (Travis Minor had 34 in 1998), and the Seminoles needed every last one of them.
His final run – a four-yard touchdown in overtime – proved to be the game-winner.
“I didn’t know I was going to get it that many times,” Akers said, “but you have to be quick on your feet and make the most of it. I understand that I am one of the leaders of this team. One of the playmakers.
“I don’t want to take all the credit. The offensive line should get the credit for making all of those holes.”
When ULM scored on its first overtime possession, it seemed like Akers and his teammates had even more work to do – and for good reason.
Extra points in college football are converted at such a high rate that they sometimes feel automatic. And although Meeks, the ULM kicker, is in his first year on the job, he was 4 for 4 against Grambling State last week and was 5 for 5 on Saturday when he stepped up for the final time.
“I think we tried to block it,” Taggart said. “But I don’t think what we tried to do made them miss the (kick).”
Like a lot of things on this night, that particular detail didn’t matter.
Whatever the reason, the left-footed kicker missed to the right and the Seminoles finally had something to celebrate. And they did, making their way over to the end zone in front of the Marching Chiefs, where they could put their arms around each other and sing the FSU Fight Song.
The film review, when it begins, will be extensive, and it will likely show a myriad of things that the Seminoles need to shore up before they visit Virginia next week.
For now, though, they’re going to allow themselves to feel good for a little while.
“We’re going to celebrate that win for 24 hours,” Taggart said. “And get back to work and get ready for Virginia next week.”