CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. – He’s Odell Haggins, he’s back again.
Tasked with leading his alma mater as interim head coach for the second time in three seasons, Haggins, Florida State’s beloved former-player-turned-assistant-coach, oversaw yet another inspiring afternoon for the FSU football team.
D.J. Matthews’ 60-yard touchdown catch from James Blackman gave the Seminoles a late lead, then a 66-yard scoring run from Jordan Travis – yes, that Jordan Travis – put the finishing touches on a 38-31 win over Boston College on a chilly afternoon at Alumni Stadium.
HIGHLIGHTS: Florida State 38, Boston College 31
The Eagles added a late touchdown that provided the final margin, but, by then, the Seminoles were well on their way to a welcome victory that came at the end of a tumultuous week.
“We’ve got some great kids on this football team,” Haggins said, his grey FSU t-shirt still soaked from the Powerade – not Gatorade – shower he’d received a few moments before.
“A lot of people want to count them out, but they wanted to show the nation: ‘We are Florida State.’”
Despite one of the most difficult weeks in the program’s recent history, Haggins had a feeling that the Seminoles would do just that.
Not even a week ago, last Sunday afternoon, the Seminoles heard the news that head coach Willie Taggart had been fired.
A few moments later, they made their way out onto the practice fields for their usual Sunday session.
And, despite the shock and the heavy emotions that came with Taggart’s departure, the Seminoles put in a few hours’ worth of work that let Haggins know that everything would be all right.
“They ran the hardest they possibly could on Sunday,” Haggins said. “They wanted to show we are Florida State. We are unconquered. ‘Coach, we’ve got your back, man.’
“That’s what they showed me.”
Showed Boston College, too.
Despite playing without key defender Marvin Wilson, and despite trailing 14-3 late in the second quarter, the Seminoles used a big-play offense and a bend-but-don’t-break defense to upset the Eagles, even their conference record at 4-4 and put themselves in position to earn a bowl berth next week at home against FCS Alabama State (noon, RSN).
Most importantly, at least on Saturday afternoon: They helped improve Haggins’ overall record as interim coach to 3-0.
“You know he loves you,” said FSU safety Hamsah Nasirildeen, whose 22 tackles were the most by an FSU defender since 1968.
“He’s got your back, you’ve got to have his back.”
Matthews’ score – in which he caught a short pass over the middle then weaved his way through the BC defense and down the right sideline – came just moments after the Eagles tied the game at 24-24.
Boston College’s ensuing drive made it as far as the 39-yard line before Stanford Samuels III intercepted a pass that snuffed out the comeback bid. Then Travis, making his FSU debut, put an exclamation point on it with his second touchdown run of the day – the Seminoles’ third scoring play of at least 60 yards.
All told, Florida State racked up a season-high 524 yards of offense, a number made even more impressive by the fact that centerpiece Cam Akers (108 total yards) had a relatively quiet afternoon.
Quarterback James Blackman started and completed 18-of-26 passes for 346 yards and two touchdowns and became the first FSU quarterback to throw multiple touchdown passes of 60-plus yards in 15 years.
No surprise, Tamorrion Terry had a big hand in that.
The redshirt sophomore set new career highs for catches (seven) and receiving yards (156), and his 74-yard scoring strike late in the second quarter helped turn things in Florida State’s favor.
That made it 14-10 and, early in the third quarter, the Seminoles took their first lead when Travis took his first snap of the season for a 26-yard touchdown run.
“You can tell we came out there working,” Terry said. “Nobody gave up. We knew we had to go out and make plays and be playmakers. Me, D.J., J-Travis, J-Black, we just came out there and made plays. We executed.”
Between those two moments, FSU’s Samuels made a play that might not make SportsCenter but nevertheless proved crucial to the Seminoles’ efforts.
With BC leading 14-10 and facing a third-and-19 at the FSU 43, the Eagles dialed up a misdirection throwback pass to tight end Jake Burt.
The play seemed to work perfectly – most FSU defenders had been drawn to the opposite side of the field, Burt had a convoy of blockers and the Seminoles had only one defender, Samuels, in the area.
When Burt caught the ball, it seemed certain that he would convert for a first down, and maybe even score.
But Samuels made a diving, shoestring tackle that somehow stopped Burt short of a first down.
A few moments later, BC kicker Aaron Boumerhi missed a 45-yard field goal attempt and the Seminoles went into the break down by only four points.
“I barely grabbed his toenail,” said Samuels, noting that the Seminoles had scouted that very play in practice this week.
“I was running over there and the first thing I thought was, ‘Don’t let them score,’” Nasirildeen added. “I don’t know where Stan came from (to force) the fourth down, but I was so happy about that play.”
FSU’s offense kept rolling in the second half, first with Travis’ touchdown and then a 13-yard run from Akers that capped a run of 21 consecutive FSU points.
At that point, it seemed that the Seminoles might be headed for a surprisingly easy victory.
But the Eagles rallied, first with a 30-yard field goal and later with a one-yard touchdown run from quarterback Dennis Grosel that made it 24-24 with 2:33 to play.
“I felt good, to be honest with you,” BC coach Steve Addazio said. “At that point, I just felt we’re going to be right in this thing right at the end with a great opportunity to win the game.”
That feeling didn’t last long.
Just two plays later, after a nice return from Isaiah Bolden and a short gain on first down, Blackman found Matthews over the middle for what might be the play of FSU’s 2019 season.
— ACC Digital Network (@theACCDN) November 9, 2019
Matthews dived for the pylon – “It’s something I practice,” he said – officials upheld the touchdown and the Seminoles silenced Alumni Stadium.
“Coach (Kendal) Briles told me it was time to make a play,” Matthews said. “Big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games.”
A little while later, there was a big-time celebration, both on the field and in the Florida State locker room.
Never mind that temperatures in Chestnut Hill never climbed above 38 degrees, and that a steady wind often made it feel so much colder.
When the ice and green Powerade spilled onto Haggins’ shoulders, he might never have felt better.
“It was cold. It felt great,” Haggins said with a smile. “Hey, if I can feel like that every time, with our kids being successful and things happening for our kids, I’ll take a Powerade bath any time.”