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Inches finally favor 'Noles

FSU 38, IOWA ST. 31: Florida State holds off a late surge by the Cyclones, getting Bowden win No. 324.

By BRIAN LANDMAN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published August 25, 2002


KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Florida State coach Bobby Bowden usually has come up inches short in memorable games.

Wide Right I. Wide Right II. Warrick Dunn's desperation lunge at Virginia.

This time, junior linebacker Kendyll Pope and senior middle linebacker Jerrel Hudson reversed that trend, stopping Iowa State quarterback Seneca Wallace inches from the goal line to preserve Saturday night's 38-31 win in the Eddie Robinson Classic before 55,132 at Arrowhead Stadium.

That allowed Bowden to inch closer to the all-time Division I-A wins record. With 324, he passed Paul "Bear" Bryant and is three behind Penn State's Joe Paterno.

"Coach Bryant was my idol and still is my idol," said Bowden, who was interested in a win no matter the number, no matter the margin.

He and the No. 3-ranked Seminoles were looking to show that an inordinate amount of first-time starters and injuries were the culprits in their 8-4 record last season, the worst since 1986.

It helped them make that case as junior receiver Anquan Boldin and senior Robert Morgan, both of whom suffered season-ending knee injuries last August, returned to the starting lineup.

"I just try to work hard and capitalize on opportunities and tonight I was able to with the Lord's help," said Boldin, who finished with seven catches for 89 yards and two touchdowns.

After senior tailback Nick Maddox's 5-yard touchdown run, the Seminoles defense then did something it did not do enough of in 2001 -- it scored.

Senior defensive end Alonzo Jackson fought off a block and was positioned to intercept a middle screen pass. He returned it 48 yards for a 14-0 lead with 6:29 left in the opening quarter. It was his first interception.

After free safety B.J. Ward blocked a Cyclone field goal, former Tampa Jesuit star kicker Xavier Beitia hit a 35-yard field goal for a 17-0 lead. FSU last scored more points in the first quarter two seasons ago against Duke.

On the ensuing kickoff, Ward leveled junior Jamaul Montgomery and forced a fumble that FSU recovered at the 10. Sophomore quarterback Chris Rix passed again to Boldin for a 2-yard score and a 24-0 lead six seconds into the second quarter.

"I thought, "Man. This just might be our year,' " Bowden said.

But then the defense looked reminiscent of last season.

Iowa State tailback Hiawatha Rutland burst up the middle almost untouched for a 36-yard TD. After FSU junior tailback Greg Jones answered with a 9-yard touchdown run, Wallace found senior tight end Kyle Knock open for a 29-yard score before halftime.

The Cyclones, three-touchdown underdogs, cut the deficit to 31-17 on Adam Benike's 33-yard field goal, capping a 19-play, 79-yard drive that consumed 10:19.

FSU tried to rebound and silence the ISU crowd, about 40,000 strong, but Rix made a decision reminiscent of last season.

He locked in on senior receiver Talman Gardner who was running an out, but senior cornerback Atif Austin, the former Tarpon Springs star, stepped in front of the pass, intercepted it and returned it 39 yards. Wallace finished the short drive with a 1-yard run.

Rix, who wrote 324 on the white tape on his right wrist, rebounded from a mistake with uncommon poise. He directed an 11-play, 80-yard drive that he capped with a perfect pass to a leaping Boldin in the end zone for a score.

"That was big and that comes from maturity and (quarterback) coach (Daryl) Dickey through the headset reiterating to me, one play at a time, you can't let what happened in the past affect what you do the next play," Rix said. "I think that's what I did last year. Whether you throw a touchdown or you throw an interception, you have to forget about it and stay positive and that's what I did."

But Wallace hit Montgomery for a 39-yard touchdown, then led his team to the brink of the tying score. His 20-yard scramble left the ball at the 1 with four seconds left. Wallace tried to score on an option keep down the line on the right, but Pope burst through and stopped him short.

"He ran an option to the weak side and we kind of had a feeling that was the play they were going to run," Pope said. "It was a big play, fourth quarter. That's the thing here at Florida State. You play four quarters and finish the drill. We did that tonight. It wasn't a pretty victory, but we got that W."

By inches for a change.

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