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Calm QB sparks 'Noles

FSU 34, WAKE 21: Adrian McPherson shakes off turnovers, early deficit to win his first start.

By BRIAN LANDMAN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 3, 2002

FSU 34, WAKE 21: Adrian McPherson shakes off turnovers, early deficit to win his first start.

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- After leading his team to a decisive touchdown Saturday afternoon against Wake Forest, new Florida State quarterback Adrian McPherson rushed to the sideline to celebrate.

The first to greet him, hoisting him off the ground with a congratulatory bear hug was the teammate he supplanted in the starting lineup.

"I just told him great drive, great job," Chris Rix said.

"It was definitely a great feeling," McPherson said, "especially coming from Chris, a guy who started last week and he's not starting now. Some guys would be bitter toward me, but he's taking it about as well as anybody could. It meant a lot."

The gesture underscored how much the Seminoles had united in a week's time, culminating in the 34-21 come-from-behind win before 24,710 at Groves Stadium.

The No. 18 Seminoles had lost two straight and three of their past four. After the loss to Notre Dame, players publicly and angrily blamed Rix in a sure sign of team dissension.

They needed a spark.

They needed some unity.

They needed a win.

"I don't know what I would have said if we had lost," coach Bobby Bowden said. "I ain't got nothing else I can think up. Really. We needed this one today."

Enter McPherson, a sophomore from Bradenton Southeast, who showed uncommon poise in his first career start. He completed 28-of-44 for 278 yards and two touchdowns and scrambled 11 times for 53 yards. He was not sacked and wisely threw the ball away several times.

"AD did like we hoped he would do," Bowden said. "We knew he wouldn't be perfect, but we thought with his athletic ability and his composure, he might do what he did tonight. Some guys have got a little composure about them. Charlie Ward had it; I think AD's got it."

He needed it.

Using befuddling misdirection, the Demon Deacons needed just six runs to go 80 yards. Fullback Ovie Mughelli capped the drive with a 3-yard TD run and a 7-0 lead minutes into the game.

The McPherson era began ominously with an interception on his first play. He later lost a fumble deep in FSU territory. Wake Forest turned both miscues -- the kind Rix was guilty of last season, then repeated against the Irish -- into two touchdowns and a 21-7 lead midway through the second.

"I was never nervous," McPherson said. "For one thing, I knew the guys were going to protect me. I knew I was going to have a lot of time in the pocket, and my job is just to get the ball to the receivers and that's what I did tonight."

He completed all four of his attempts on the ensuing possession, setting up a 31-yard field goal by Xavier Beitia, who struggled.

That seemingly sparked some passion in the oft-criticized FSU defense, which had allowed 303 yards to that point. It forced a three-and-out and, with 1:14 left in the half, McPherson took the Seminoles 57 yards for a critical touchdown.

He hit 5-of-7 on the drive, including a 9-yard TD pass to receiver Anquan Boldin to pull within 21-17.

FSU opened the second half with another impressive drive, this one ending on a 3-yard run by backup tailback Nick Maddox, whose role changed dramatically on that series. Greg Jones, the league's top rusher, sprained his right knee on a third-down run and had to be helped from the field.

Jones didn't return and will be evaluated Monday.

"AD was awesome," said Maddox, who rushed 19 times for a career-high 122 yards and two TDs. "He dealt with some adversity today and that shows maturity. He comes out and throws an interception but comes back and does a terrific job. Then he fumbles and he doesn't let it get him down. He comes back and does a terrific job. That showed with our team, coming back from adversity, but it all starts with the quarterback."

"AD was in control," offensive guard Montrae Holland said.

So too was the defense. Though Beitia, the former Jesuit star, missed two more field goals (he missed one in the first half) before hitting from 28 yards, the defense continued to stymie the Deacons.

They had 75 yards in the second half and zero points. FSU had not shut out any opponent after halftime and often collapsed. Miami scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns to pull off a dramatic win and Notre Dame scored 24 second-half points.

"Florida State played great defensively," coach Jim Grobe said. "I think they crowded the line of scrimmage a little bit and we needed to throw the ball a little better."

Wake Forest, one of the nation's worst passing teams, did not. The Seminoles sealed it with a 34-yard run by Maddox with 1:58 left.

"This is a big win for us," McPherson said. "We definitely needed it, not only to bring this team together, but to continue to strive to win the ACC."

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