TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (seminoles.com) – This was just what Florida State and first-year Head Coach Mike Norvell needed.
The Seminoles took a 31-7 halftime lead and earned a hard-fought 31-28 win over No. 5 North Carolina – the Seminoles’ first win over a top-five ranked team since a 31-27 win over No. 5 ranked Notre Dame on October 18, 2014. The win was Florida State’s first over a ranked team since a 22-21 win over No. 22 Boston College on November 17, 2018.
The Seminoles’ victory marked the first time since October 16, 1965 that an unranked Florida State team beat a top-five ranked team in Doak Campbell Stadium (10-3 win over No. 5 Georgia).
Florida State (2-3, 1-3 ACC) gave Norvell his first career ACC win and gave North Carolina (3-1, 3-1 ACC) its first loss of the season. The Seminoles’ victory also kept Florida State alumnus Mack Brown winless over the school where he played collegiately as a running back in 1972 and 1973 (0-10).
Quarterback Jordan Travis completed eight passes for 191 yards and one touchdown and ran 16 times for a career-high 107 yards and two touchdowns. Running back La’Damian Webb rushed 12 times for a career-best 109 yards.
It was Florida State’s defense that saved the day and the victory. The defense stopped North Carolina on downs on its final drive of the game to secure the victory. Florida State limited the Tar Heels to 184 yards rushing – only 34 yards rushing in the second half. North Carolina entered the game averaging 245 yards rushing yards per game and had scored nine rushing touchdowns in its first four games. The Tar Heels managed just one rushing touchdown in Saturday’s game.
“I’m so very proud of our football team,” said Norvell. “There has been plenty of adversity that has shown up throughout this year, throughout the course of the early part of the season but these guys believe in what we are doing. Coming off of last week, we saw moments, we saw flashes, we saw a team that was playing harder and really trying to work to play together. This week, we challenged them throughout the course of the week because we needed to see that consistency show up. I thought this was our best week of preparation.
“To go out there against a top-five opponent I thought we started incredibly fast. Our guys had tremendous energy, really fueling off of each other on both sides of the ball.”
Florida State scored first following a blocked punt by Ja’Khi Douglas after the Seminoles’ defense forced North Carolina to a three-and-out on its first possession of the game. Travis scored in a 23-yard keeper on their first play from scrimmage to give Florida State its first lead in the first quarter of a game for the third time in its first five games.
With another blocked punt later in the game, the Seminoles lead the nation with five blocked kicks.
“The two blocked punts really set the standard of how we wanted to play and how aggressive we wanted to be,” said Norvell.
Florida State extended its lead to 10-0 on a 24-yard field goal by Ryan Fitzgerald.
Florida State moved to a 17-0 on a 1-yard rushing touchdown by Travis – his second score of the night. Travis directed a nine-play, 75-yard drive with 3:29 left to play before halftime to allowed the Seminoles to comfortably take their largest halftime lead of their first five games of the season. He completed two passes for 43 yards to Keyshawn Helton on the drive including a momentum-gaining 39-yard completion that gave Florida State a first down at North Carolina’s 12 yard line.
“Jordan is an incredible competitor,” said Norvell. “He made some unbelievable plays tonight. He got limited a little bit later in the game; we tried to be smart with what all we were asking him to do. He led this offense. I think there is a great deal of confidence in the job that he does and honestly, how he was able to extend some plays tonight and what he did as a runner, and decisions (he made).
“He’s a great leader for this team.”
Travis has now scored four rushing touchdowns this season with at least one coming in three consecutive games.
“I feel 100 percent, I feel great,” said Travis following the victory. “There is no one who could have kept me off the field. I was going in with my boys. They were fighting for me, so I’ve got to fight for them. I’m very thankful we got the win.
“I feel very comfortable but I couldn’t feel comfortable without the guys in front blocking. That’s where it starts. It starts in the trenches. They gave me all day to sit back there and make plays and the receivers are making great plays. There is no reason not to be comfortable in this offense. I’ve got my guys behind my back, pushing me and telling me that they trust me. It’s a great feeling. I’ve got to keep them moving, that’s the main thing, to keep them moving and getting more comfortable. Because there is still room for improvement in every aspect. I’ve just got to keep working and getting better.”
Joshua Kaindoh turned in what can be considered the biggest defensive play of Norvell’s first season at Florida State as he intercepted a Sam Howell pass and returned it for a touchdown and a 24-0 Seminole lead. The interception was the first of Kaindoh’s career.
“On the pick-6, when they had four strong and one on the backside, I kept getting caught on that play early in the game,” said Kaindoh. “On the sideline, I was talking with one of my coaches and I knew it was coming up when I saw them lineup like that. Instead of running and trying to rush, the quarterback threw the ball and I just ran.”
Kaindoh also spoke on the difference of the Seminoles’ defense against North Carolina as compared to earlier in the season.
“It started in practice,” said Kaindoh. “We came back after Norte Dame and we just made up our in our minds that we would practice harder.”
North Carolina got on the scoreboard on a 1-yard rushing score by Javonte Williams with just 1:02 remaining before halftime. His touchdown brought the Tar Heels to with 24-7.
Travis, though, wasn’t finished with his first half magic.
Growing more and more comfortable with each play during his third career start, Travis directed a five-play, 75-yard yard touchdown scoring drive which he finished with a 12-yard touchdown pass to tight end Camren McDonald. Travis rushed twice for 30 yards and completed a 33-yard pass to wide receiver Warren Thompson as he surgically moved the Seminoles down the field. His first touchdown pass of the night came as he extended the touchdown scoring play with his legs before finding McDonald in the back of the end zone with a perfectly placed pass. The touchdown was McDonald’s second receiving touchdown of the season.
Florida State’s 31 points were the most in a first half since scoring 56 first half points in a 77-6 thrashing of Delaware State on November 18, 2017. It was the Seminoles’ most points in the first half of an ACC game since scoring 38 in the first two quarters of a 59-3 win over Syracuse on November 16, 2013.
North Carolina pulled to within 10 at 31-21 as it outscored the Seminoles by a 14-0 margin in the third quarter. The Tar Heels scored two touchdowns on a pair of Sam Howell scoring passes. His first touchdown pass of the night was a 38-yard pass to Javonte Williams (coupled with a two-point conversion) and his second was a 33-yard scoring pass to Beau Corrales (the two-point conversion was stopped by the Seminole defense).
The Tar Heels closed the gap to just three on a 25-yard touchdown pass from Howell to Dyami Brown to cut the Seminoles’ lead to 31-28. Howell completed just three passes on the 80-yard drive but his final two completions on the drive were for 34 yards and the touchdown for Brown.
North Carolina had one last chance to tie or take the lead as they started their final drive with 2:30 on the clock on their own 22 yard line. The Heels drove the ball down to the FSU 41 but three consecutive incompletions sealed the win. The fourth down incompletion marked the third-fourth down the Noles successfully defended in the game.
“It was the greatest feeling I’ve ever felt in my life to see the defense come up like that,” said Travis.
“It went down to the last play,” said Novell. “I’m so honored to coach this group and to see the response that they had because it’s been challenging. It’s been challenging in every aspect. They just continue to respond and I’m really proud of those guys. To see that reaction (after the game) and to see them in the locker room, the celebrations – that was pretty special.”
Defensive back Jaiden Lars-Woodbey was happy for his teammates in earning the win.
“Tonight was very rewarding,” said Lars-Woodbey. “We came out and we did what we had to do. I think that says a lot about us as a defense. It’s real simple, we came out here and we did what we have to do. It was everybody doing their job and playing together. That was one of the main things we talked about all week – playing together and everybody making sure they do what they need to do.”
Florida State is on the road next week at Louisville for a noon kickoff.