When the final pass fell incomplete in the end zone, and No. 1 Florida State had locked up yet another chance at a national title, the Seminoles raced to midfield for their rendition of the Swamp Stomp.
"If you can win here in The Swamp," Florida State's Peter Warrick said, "that's the best way to prove you can win a national championship. We are a great team."
Warrick ran for one touchdown and set up the clinching score with a 38-yard catch, and Sebastian Janikowski kicked three field goals one from 54 yards as the Seminoles beat No. 3 Florida 30-23 Saturday before a record crowd of 85,747 at Florida Field.
"Everytime Florida and Florida State play, it puts someone in the national championship game," Bowden said after his Seminoles completed their third perfect regular season. "We're just happy we're there."
The Gators (9-2) were their own worst enemy in losing for just the fourth time second this season in 61 home games under coach Steve Spurrier. Florida was called for 15 penalties totaling 93 yards, and in the fourth quarter had a punt blocked and threw an interception at the Seminoles 2-yard line.
There is some consolation for Florida. The Gators play in the SEC title game on Dec. 4, and a win will send them to either the Orange or Fiesta bowls as the league champion.
"Well, we beat ourselves. That's all you can say," Spurrier said. "We can take losing, but we hate to beat ourselves. When you can't line up on sides, you can't line up behind the line of scrimmage, its tough to take. We had our chances if we just played within the rules.
Top-ranked Florida State beat Florida 30-23.(AP) Windows Media
For the past seven years, this passionate rivalry has become a playoff-elimination game, and the Gators weren't knocked out until the very end.
With the Gators on the FSU 40, Jesse Palmer threw a desperation pass into the end zone, where a half-dozen players were waiting for the ball. It was tipped by several Florida State defenders and fell to the ground before Brian Haugabrook had a chance to grab it.
Two years ago, the Gators beat the 'Noles 32-29 with a winning drive in the final two minutes.
|Florida State's Peter Warrick grabbed nine passes for 90 yards and a touchdown.|
They didn't. And the Seminoles met at midfield and began the celebration, throwing their helmets to the air and stomping on the turf where they last won in 1993 the year they won the national title.
Since then, the Seminoles missed two other chances to win it all, losing to Florida in the '97 Sugar Bowl, and dropping a 23-16 decision to Tennessee in the '99 Fiesta Bowl.
Chris Weinke, who missed last year's games against Florida and Tennessee with a neck injury, was 24-of-36 for 263 yards and a touchdown a 27-yarder to Marvin Minnis with 6:03 left that put the Seminoles ahead 30-16. Two plays earlier, Weinke hit Warrick for 38 yards.
The Gators came back, though, with Doug Johnson throwing a 3-yard TD pass to Haugabrook to trim the lead to seven points with 3:33 left. But the Seminoles recovered an on-side kick and then held off the Gators' last gasp.
To no one's surprise, Florida alternated quarterbacks, with Johnson and Jesse Palmer taking snaps every other play in an effort to get the offense going. It didn't work the way Spurrier had hoped as Florida had a good chunk of its 346 yards in the final few minutes.
Florida's defense kept the game from getting out of hand early on, forcing the Seminoles to settle for first-half field goals of 22 and 27 yards by Janikowski.
Johnson was 20-of-36 for 214 yards with two interceptions; Palmer 8-of-19 for 166 yards.
Warrick, who heard chants of "Dillard's, Dillard's," in reference to his shopping mall scam that cost him a two-game suspension and the role of Heisman Trophy favorite, had a strong game. The wide receiver caught nine passes for 90 yards and ran for 19 yards, including a 4-yard TD to give FSU a 7-0 first-quarter lead.
Florida State led 13-6 at the half, but the margin could have been greater. After scoring on their opening drive, the Seminoles moved to the Gators 4 the next two times they had the ball but settled for Janikowski field goals.
Jeff Chandler kicked field goals of 50 and 45 yards to keep the Gators in striking distance entering the second half.
Florida needed 71 seconds to take its only lead of the game. First Chandler kicked his third field goal, a 22-yarder, to cut the margin to 13-9. The Seminoles took over and on third down, and with Florida's defense still setting up, Weinke took the snap and tried to hit Minnis for a big gainer.
But cornerback Bennie Alexander intercepted the pass and returned it 43 yards for a touchdown, putting the Gators ahead 16-13 with 7:39 left in the third period.
Unperturbed by the blunder, Weinke brought Florida State into Janikowski's field goal range, After his successful 49-yarder was wiped out by a delay-of-game penalty, Janikowski kicked a 54-yarder to tie the score at 16-all.
Then came Florida State's big break linebacker Tommy Polley blocked a Florida punt. He blew through the middle of the line, leaped in front of Alan Rhine's punt and safety Jean Jeune recovered at the Florida 21. Six plays later, Jeff Chaney scored from 2 yards out with 34 seconds left in the third quarter and the Seminoles had the lead for good, 23-16.
Florida nearly tied the score, moving to the Seminoles 8, but after a holding penalty moved the ball back 10 yards, Johnson's third down pass was intercepted at the 2 by free safety Chris Hope. A few plays later, Weinke found Minnis in the right corner of the end zone, and the Seminoles had the win that surely puts them in their second straight national title game.
This year, Bowden is hoping for different results as one more win would give the 70-year old coach the first perfect season of his career.
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