Jan. 2, 1997
NEW ORLEANS — Third-ranked Florida staked a claim to its first-ever national
championship as Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel threw three
touchdown passes to Ike Hilliard and ran for another score in a
52-20 victory over top-ranked Florida State in the Sugar Bowl at
Wuerffel connected on touchdown passes to Hilliard in each of
the first three quarters — of nine, 31 and seven yards — and
added a 47-yard completion to the receiver to set up another
score. The third touchdown pass to Hilliard began a 28-point
explosion that broke open a close game and enabled the Gators to
avenge a 24-21 setback to Florida State on November 30th.
Florida State coach Bobby Bowden dreaded the idea of playing his
intrastate rival for the second time in a season, and with good
reason. The Seminoles (11-1) were denied their second national
title in four years and allowed their highest point total since
a 59-27 loss to Auburn in 1985.
The defeat was extra bitter since it came against Gators coach
Steve Spurrier, who spent the past week complaining about late
hits on Wuerffel in the November meeting. The controversy grew
heated during the week, with Bowden warning Spurrier that the
attacks became too personal.
Spurrier’s comments helped disguise his poor record against
Bowden. Tonight was just his third win against Bowden in nine
tries, but no game was nearly as important.
“First of all, I’ll say what Danny always says. God looked down
on the Gators this year,” Spurrier said. “We have a lot to be
thankful for. I want the players to realize that divine guidance
or something like that helped us this year.”
The Gators (12-1) also erased the memory of last season’s 62-24
loss to Nebraska in the Fiesta Bowl, a defeat that kept Spurrier
from his first national title that come when the polls were
released this morning.
Wuerffel scrambled 16 yards for a touchdown with 13 seconds left
in the third quarter and Terry Jackson scored on runs of 42 and
one yard in the fourth quarter to complete the rout. Wuerffel
can become the second Heisman Trophy winner in four years to
also win a national championship, following Charlie Ward of
Florida State in 1993.
“It’s been a wonderful career with many great moments,” said the
polite Wuerffel, whose demeanor is directly opposite that of his
outspoken coach. “This is one of the best.”
Wuerffel completed 18-of-34 passes for 306 yards, with Hilliard
catching seven for 150 yards.
Spurrier, however, was not about to take credit, instead
thanking his quarterback and the series of events that put him
in the de facto national title game.
“Danny is the best quarterback that has ever played college
football,” added Spurrier, who noted that a win by Texas over
Nebraska in the Big 12 title game and Ohio State’s triumph over
Arizona State in Wednesday’s Rose Bowl put his team in position
to claim a national title.
Wuerffel had a touchdown pass to Hilliard called back by an
illegal formation penalty before finding him again on a slant
pattern over the middle with 9:48 left in the first quarter. The
Gators drove 77 yards after linebacker Mike Peterson stopped
Seminoles fullback Pooh Bear Williams short of a first down on
4th-and-2 at the Gators 22.
As expected, Wuerffel has worked primarily out of the shotgun
formation, giving him more time to throw. Facing a three-man
blitz, Wuerffel was able to loft the 47-yard pass to Hilliard. A
roughing-the-passer penalty was tacked on the end of the play,
putting a smile on the face of Spurrier.
Fred Taylor scored on a two-yard run two plays later, increasing
the lead to 17-3 with 11:28 left in the quarter.
“Steve left his running backs in more tonight and it gave
Wuerffel more time,” Bowden said. “Their protection scheme was
A defensive lapse by the Gators helped the Seminoles cut the
deficit to seven points. Two Florida defensive backs collided,
leaving E.G. Green all alone in the end zone for a 29-yard pass
from Thad Busby midway through the second quarter. Busby
completed just 17-of-41 passes for 271 yards, with 55 of those
yards coming on the first play from scrimmage.
Florida needed a little more than two minutes to rebuild its
two-touchdown lead as Wuerffel threw the 31-yarder to Hilliard,
who caught the ball over the middle, stopped on a dime and
reversed field into the end zone.
Florida State answered again, this time on a 12-yard touchdown
run by Warrick Dunn with 40 seconds left in the half. Dunn, who
rushed for 185 yards in the November meeting with Florida, was
held to 28 yards on nine carries and saw limited action in the
second half due to cramps.
“It hurts because in a game like this you need to play well on
both sides of the ball, you need to be able to have a balanced
offense and not having Warrick out there kept us from being able
to do that,” Busby said.
The Seminoles moved within four points on a 45-yard field goal
by Scott Bentley early in the third quarter, but that would be
the last time they would score.
Jacquez Green had a 26-yard punt return to the 24 and Wuerffel
drilled a seven-yard touchdown pass to Hilliard on 3rd-and-goal
with 5:43 left in the quarter. Special teams, a problem for the
Gators this season, played a role in another first half score as
Reidel Anthony had a 27-yard punt return to set up a 32-yard
field goal by Bart Edmiston.
The Gators won despite playing the second half without star
linebacker James Bates, who suffered a concussion.
The longest current current winning streak in the country — 12
games — ended, as did the Seminoles’ 11-game bowl winning
streak. Florida State was unbeaten in its previous 14 bowls
(13-0-1) since a 18-17 setback to Oklahoma in the 1981 Orange
The game included 29 penalties for 127 yards, including 15 for
102 on the Gators.
1 2 3 4 F - - - - -- Florida (3) 10 14 14 14 52 Florida St (1) 3 14 3 0 20 FINAL Florida-Hilliard 9 pass from Wuerffel (Edmiston kick) Florida St-FG Bentley 43 Florida-FG Edmiston 32 Florida-Taylor 2 run (Edmiston kick) Florida St-Eg Green 29 pass from Busby (Bentley kick) Florida-Hilliard 31 pass from Wuerffel (Edmiston kick) Florida St-Dunn 12 run (Bentley kick) Florida St-FG Bentley 45 Florida-Hilliard 7 pass from Wuerffel (Edmiston kick) Florida-Wuerffel 16 run (Edmiston kick) Florida-T Jackson 42 run (Edmiston kick) Florida-T Jackson 1 run (Edmiston kick) Florida Florida St First downs 26 13 Rushed-yards 43-168 21-42 Passing yards 306 271 Sacked-yards lost 5-26 3-25 Return yards 76 98 Passes 18-34-1 17-42-2 Punts 7-48.1 8-46.4 Fumbles-lost 1-0 0-0 Penalties-yards 15-102 14-115 Time of possession 36:27 23:33 Individual Statistics RUSHING: Florida-T Jackson 12-118, Taylor 18-60, Williams 4-2, Schottenheime 1-0, Mccaslin 2-minus 2, Wuerffel 6-minus 10. Florida St-Dunn 9-28, Warrick 1-12, P Williams 2-7, Feaster 2-1, Busby 7-minus 6. PASSING: Florida-Wuerffel 18-34-1-306. Florida St-Busby 17-41-1-271, Kendra 0-1-1-0. RECEIVING: Florida-Hilliard 7-150, Green 5-79, Anthony 4-50, Mobley 1-16, Taylor 1-11. Florida St-Messam 5-48, Cooper 4-82, Eg Green 3-86, Pearsall 1-25, Dunn 1-12, Abdullah 1-10, Warrick 1-7, P Williams 1-1. Att: 78,344