December 31, 2019 - by
Football Falls Short, 20-14, In Sun Bowl

EL PASO, Texas – With new head coach Mike Norvell watching from up high and a promising future inching closer, the Florida State Seminoles closed out their 2019 season with a 20-14 loss to Arizona State in the Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl.

Tamorrion Terry caught a 91-yard touchdown pass, Ontaria Wilson ran for a three-yard score, and the Seminoles (6-7) outgained the Sun Devils (8-5) by nearly 200 yards – 470-282.

But FSU was undone by six turnovers that Arizona State converted into 14 points, including a game-winning interception return for a touchdown by ASU’s Willie Harts midway through the fourth quarter.

It was the Sun Devils’ only touchdown of the game.

“We have to keep creating great habits.  Arizona State did a great job,” FSU interim head coach Odell Haggins said. “We turned the ball over, but we can play better. We are going to play better next year.”

WATCH: Odell Haggins discusses FSU’s defeat in the Sun Bowl

Florida State had its best chance at a victory on its last possession, when quarterback James Blackman connected with Keith Gavin for a 49-yard gain on third-and-19 with 1:31 to play.

The Seminoles’ momentum, however, was short-lived. Terry, taking a “wildcat” snap around the left side, lost a fumble on the game’s next play and the Sun Devils were able to run out the clock.

Not too long before that, though, the Seminoles seemed to have survived a slow and uneven first half that led to a 9-0 deficit at halftime.

They rallied thanks to a pair of 91-yard touchdown drives, each of which tied for FSU’s longest scoring drive of the season and which could hardly have been more different from each other.

The first, an 11-play march, featured two trick plays, a fourth-down conversion and a tough scoring run from a player – Wilson – making his first appearance since suffering an injury in mid-October.

The second required all of one play.

That’s when Blackman and Terry did what they’ve done all year. Terry beat his defender off the line of scrimmage, Blackman hit him in stride down the right sideline and the speedy receiver outran everyone on the field for a 91-yard score that broke the record for longest passing play in Sun Bowl history.

It was Terry’s ninth touchdown of the season and 17th of his career.

The final score did a disservice to an inspired effort from Florida State’s defense, which held the Sun Devils’ offense to just four field goals, all of which came after trips inside the FSU red zone.

“Coach (Harlon) Barnett went back to his style of calling defense,” Haggins said, referring to FSU’s departing defensive coordinator. “Those guys defensively did a very good job of containing their quarterback, containing those receivers. We did a very good job.”

Arizona State kicker Christian Sendejas tied a Sun Bowl record for the most field goals in a game with four.

Playing without a deep stable of key contributors – including star running back Cam Akers – the Seminoles pieced things together on offense and got an encouraging contribution from running back Deonté Sheffield.

A walk-on making his first career start, Sheffield carried 18 times for a game-high 87 yards. And fellow walk-on Treshaun Ward had a fine first showing, with 44 yards on 10 attempts.

“At Florida State,” Haggins said, “we always will say, ‘next man up.’”

Redshirt freshman quarterback Jordan Travis gave the Seminoles a spark, too, with 58 yards – including a winding, weaving 29-yard scamper – on the ground.

Those and other promising performances were overshadowed, though, by Florida State turnovers.

Blackman threw for 244 yards and a touchdown, but also tossed four interceptions, including a short one into the end zone on the Seminoles’ first drive of the game. He also lost a fumble that led to Arizona State’s first field goal.

“It was very difficult,” Blackman said. “I didn’t perform at the level that my teammates needed me to perform. Gave the ball away too many times. Can’t win games like that, turning the ball over consistently. That’s not good.”

In a sense, the game had a feel befitting the last few weeks around the program – some good signs from players that will contribute with Norvell next season, but also the type of toe-stubs and mistakes that ultimately led to a coaching change last month.

But, with the Sun Bowl finished, there will be no more back-and-forth between the present and the future. The keys are now in Norvell’s hands, all the way, and he and the Seminoles will leave El Paso and move full-speed toward what lies ahead.

“We grew this year,” Haggins said. “We will be back. Coach Norvell, myself and the rest of the coaches, we will be back.”

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