Nov 30, 2002
By EDDIE PELLS
AP Sports Writer
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – All of a sudden, the season doesn’t seem so bad for Florida State.
Taking advantage of his second chance, Chris Rix ran for 83 yards and threw two touchdowns to Anquan Boldin to help the No. 23 Seminoles earn their biggest win of the year, 31-14 over No. 15 Florida on Saturday night.
“We finally looked like Florida State,” relieved coach Bobby Bowden said.
Freshman tailback Leon Washington ran for 134 yards. Linebacker Kendyll Pope returned an interception for a touchdown. A week of turmoil melted away with a big post-game celebration, and a season of disappointments took a long-awaited positive turn for the Seminoles (9-4).
“We knew we had the receivers, we knew we had the quarterbacks, we knew we had the runners,” Bowden said. “But it just wasn’t happening. Tonight was the first night it happened.”
The Seminoles beat their biggest rival for the fourth time in five years, and now they have a month to get ready for a trip to a major bowl – probably the Sugar.
“It doesn’t get much better than that,” Pope said.
On the other side, Ron Zook had no more luck in his first year than Steve Spurrier did in 12 seasons when it comes to winning at Doak Campbell Stadium. The Gators (8-4) still haven’t won in Tallahassee since 1986.
Chris Rix and the Seminoles upset No. 11 Florida in Tallahassee.
“I guess the streak continues,” Florida offensive lineman Shannon Snell said.
Coming into the week, Zook still had a chance to salvage a disappointing season of his own by winning 10 games. But that won’t happen, and now it’s Florida, not Florida State, that will spend an uncomfortable month stewing before its bowl trip, very likely to the Outback.
“It hurts,” Zook said. “It hurts our players bad. It hurts our coaches bad. But they were the better team today.”
Rix won the starting job by default when Adrian McPherson was kicked off the team last week after a police investigation led to his arrest on a charge of felony grand theft. McPherson’s final game was a dreadful 17-7 loss to North Carolina State last Saturday that had Seminoles fans howling.
He’s a fighter. He is one of those guys who never would quit.
“A situation like that can make you or break you,” Boldin said. “We’ve been battling this stuff all year. It was just a matter of pride. We wanted this bad.”
Even though the trouble was in Tallahassee, Zook was the one who put a gag order on his players during the buildup to the game. He did it because he thought it would help the Gators win. The ploy didn’t work, but Zook said he had no regrets about the decision.
“If I had to do it over again, I’d do the same thing,” he said. “I thought we were focused, zeroed in on what we had to do.”
Florida’s hopes grew dim with 10 minutes left in the third quarter when Grossman flipped a pass to tight end Aaron Walker. Walker tipped it into the hands of Pope, whose 13-yard interception return gave the Seminoles a 24-6 lead.
A little later, Grossman, who finished with 303 yards, led the Gators on an 84-yard touchdown drive to cut the deficit to 10.
But Rix and Boldin answered with what might have been Florida State’s best drive of the season. They connected for a 26-yard gain and for a 19-yard touchdown as part of an 80-yard drive that made the score 31-14 and turned the rest of the night into a Seminole celebration.
It was an odd combination, considering Boldin was in McPherson’s corner when Rix struggled earlier this season and several Seminoles were calling for a change.
“He’s a fighter,” Boldin said of Rix. “He is one of those guys who never would quit.”
The Gators blew their chance to make this a game in the first half, when two trips inside the 20 netted only two field goals. Elsewhere, Ingle Martin’s short punts – he averaged 32 yards on seven kicks – gave FSU the field-position advantage, and 84 yards in penalties short-circuited a number of drives.
Gators tailback Earnest Graham (82 yards) didn’t appear to have any more run-ins with Darnell Dockett, the FSU lineman accused of intentionally hurting Graham in last year’s meeting.
But clearly, memories of the play lingered. Florida got called for three personal fouls. At one point, the Gators threw a dive block on FSU defender Brodrick Bunkley that sent him out of the game with a knee injury. FSU’s Eric Powell drew a personal foul after cheap-shotting Grossman after a handoff.
I can’t even describe how it feels. From playing, to not playing, to going out tonight and beating Florida. I’ve never been happier.
QB Chris Rix
Midway through the second quarter, officals stopped play, gathered linemen from both teams into the huddle and told them the cheap stuff had to stop.
“You can’t say anything bad about them,” Snell said. “They played rough, but they played fair.”
Rix, an early Heisman candidate whose season quickly went south, threw a pair of gorgeous 22-yard strikes on a second-quarter scoring drive. The second pass was to Boldin, who fought off coverage to get himself open for a 17-6 lead.
Rix’s passing stats – 13-for-29 for 194 yards – weren’t incredible. But most important, he avoided the mistakes that cost Florida State games early in the year and landed him on the bench, as a season that began with dreams of a national title turned into something much less.
“I can’t even describe how it feels,” Rix said. “From playing, to not playing, to going out tonight and beating Florida. I’ve never been happier.”