For the first time in a month, the Florida State football team was tested.
The rival Florida Gators gave the Seminoles all they could handle, as FSU trailed at halftime for the first time since a 34-28 loss against Clemson loss Oct. 15.
FSU passed the test in impressive fashion, however, squeezing out a 45-38 victory over the Gators on Black Friday at Doak Campbell Stadium before a sold-out crowd.
The Seminoles closed the regular season with five consecutive wins, scoring more than 40 points four times.
It was also the highest scoring game in the rivalry’s history.
Hundreds of fans jumped the stadium railings and celebrated with the Seminoles on the field as fireworks exploded above the stadium.
“I didn’t actually see them coming down, I just felt them all there. It was pretty wild,” FSU head coach Mike Norvell said.
“No, we got an incredible fan base. I love it. It’s such a special place to play college football, to coach college football. It’s about the people. It truly is. Who we represent, what we stand for, that’s what makes Florida State special.”
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FSU (9-3) took control of the game by outscoring Florida 17-0 in the third quarter after the Gators (6-6) entered halftime with a 24-21 lead.
Florida tied the game up with 14 straight points in the fourth quarter. But a 17-yard rushing touchdown by running back Trey Benson with 4:06 left gave the Seminoles the lead for good.
FSU’s defense held a driving UF on downs in the final minute.
“Just to start off, what a game. What a game. That’s what this game is supposed to be,” Norvell said. “Energy, passion, incredible atmosphere. To all our fans, I mean, just wow. It was an unbelievable environment to be a part of a college football game.
“To our players, the heart, the effort, the physicality, the toughness. The game was back and forth.”
Starting quarterback Jordan Travis had a big day running the ball and after a bit of a lull where he completed just 2 of his 11 passes — which included several drops by receivers — big passes to Malik McClain and Camron McDonald got the Seminoles going again.
Travis finished 13-of-30 passing for 270 yards, while also adding 15 rushes for 83 yards. Benson added 20 rushes for 111 yards and three scores.
Florida QB Anthony Richardson threw for 198 yards on 9-of-27 passing, also adding 32 yards on eight runs.
FSU last trailed 24-14 at the halftime of the Tigers’ game. The last time it trailed before Friday was a 3-0 deficit against Georgia Tech was on Oct. 29.
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Despite blowing a two-touchdown lead, the Seminoles came out on their final drive and were able to take a lead on Benson’s 17-yard TD run.
Treshaun Ward also added runs of eight and four on the drive, but a 21-yard pass from Travis to Wilson along the sideline was the biggest play on the drive, coming on a third down.
“That’s what it’s all about,” Norvell said. “That’s the picture, man. Johnny, probably not one of his best nights, but in the moment of truth, when we absolutely needed it, he rose up. He’s been battling. Last week was very limited. He was limited in practice as well. You see when we needed a play, he made a play.”
Third-quarter adjustments defensively
The Gators racked up 281 yards of offense in the first half and 24 points after scoring the same amount all game against Vanderbilt last week.
Florida rushed for 130 yards and passed for 151, including three touchdown passes by Richardson.
The Seminoles’ made adjustments at the break and limited the Gators to just three yards on their first three drives of the second half. In that span, FSU was able to string together three scoring drives — a field goal and two touchdowns — to turn the halftime deficit into a two-touchdown lead.
The biggest difference in the second half was the ability to put pressure on Richardson, not allowing him to roll out and find open receivers.
The Gators had just 55 total yards in the third quarter.
Safety Shaheim Brown recorded the only sack of the game, a zero-yard loss, to stall the second drive.
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Jordan Travis runs wild
Travis had his best rushing game since a 102-yard performance against NC State on Oct. 8.
He ran the ball 15 times for 83 yards and scored two touchdowns. His first TD run came on a 29-yard run where he decided to keep the ball and broke a couple of tackles en route to the end zone.
His second score came following a big run where he broke out of two sacks and rode down the right sideline to the one-yard line on 3rd-and-10 from the UF 11. He started his slide at that spot before the end zone and was ruled down short. He scored one play later.
Travis added another run a couple of minutes later, where he broke away from UF defenders and dove down at the one-yard line, again ruled short because he started his slide, thus giving himself up.
Running back Trey Benson added his second rushing TD of the game two plays later.
“He battled. It was everything,” Norvell said. “There were times that he had to extend plays. Some of the things that he did out there on that football field were just truly special. To be able to take a negative and make it into a positive, I mean, I thought he located the ball really well throughout the course of the night.
“You just see his leadership, you see his confidence. There’s nothing that’s moving too fast for him. He’s able to control himself and go out there and play at an elite level.
“He broke the rock tonight. A lot of guys that did some great things, but he was special.”
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Trading haymakers in the first half
In somewhat of a surprise, both teams came out firing on offense in the first half, combining for 580 total yards of offense and 45 points.
The Seminoles opened the scoring on a 9-yard TD run by Benson, which came after a 45-yard run on the previous play.
Florida came out with. a 52-yard pass from Richardson to Ricky Pearsall on the next play to even the game.
The Gators took the first lead against the Seminoles in nearly a month when Richardson hit tight end, Jonathan Odom, for a 12-yard TD. Jordan evened the game with his 25-yard run before Richardson hit Pearsall for a 43-yard TD pass.
FSU tied it again on Travis’ second TD rush.
The scoring in the first half was capped off by a 41-yard FG by Adam Mihalek.
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Ricky Pearsall burns Kevin Knowles III
Both of Pearshall’s scores in the first half came with the slot corner Knowles in coverage. The first one looked like a coverage breakdown, where Knowles thought he had help over the top. Pearsall got wide open and easily took a pass from Richardson in stride for the score.
A few drives later, Pearsall just beat Knowles off the line of scrimmage and got open for Richardson to hit him again for a score.
Pearsall, an Arizona-State transfer, had a career-high of four catches for 139 yards and the two scores.
He was one of five redshirt receivers for the Gators with Justin Shorter (lower body), Ja’Quavion Fraziars (upper body), Xzavier Henderson (lower body), Marcus Burke (upper body) and Thai Chiaokhiao-Bowman (upper body) out with injuries.
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Rush defense woes
In the last fast four weeks, the Seminoles seemed to have corrected their rush defense woes. Against a top-15 rushing attack in Florida, the woes showed up again for the FSU defense.
Florida rushed for 262 yards and two rushing TDs, including a 45-yard touchdown run by Etienne to tie the game at 38 in the fourth quarter. The Gators are now 6-2 when rushing for 200 or more yards.
Etienne rushed 17 times for 139 yards and his score. It was his second-career 100-yard rush game and his second in three games. Montrel Johnson added 15 rushes for 82 yards and Richardson had 10 rushes for 41 yards.
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