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ACC champs?

FSU 7, N.C. STATE 17: FSU loses its fourth game but clinches the league title thanks to Maryland's loss.

By BRIAN LANDMAN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published November 24, 2002

[Times photo: Carrie Pratt]
Anquan Boldin, front, and Chris Rix walk off the field after losing 4 games in consecutive seasons.
RALEIGH, N.C. -- Florida State defensive tackle Darnell Dockett couldn't believe what he was seeing as he careened through a chaotic mass toward the locker room.

North Carolina State fans had stormed the field after their team's 17-7 victory Saturday, tore down the goal post in the south end zone then swarmed the one in the north end.

"That hurts seeing them break down the posts," he said, shaking his head. "That's twice. That's twice in the last few years (against us) they broke them down."

As in 1998, when the Wolfpack stunned the Seminoles, the rare ACC loss was tempered by a league title.

Thanks to Virginia's 48-13 victory against Maryland, the No. 14-ranked Seminoles (8-4, 7-1) claimed the league title and are headed for a BCS game, most likely the Sugar Bowl on Jan.1 against the SEC champion.

"It's good we won it. But losing our last ACC game takes a lot out of it," senior offensive tackle Brett Williams said. "We sure don't feel like we won it. You would much rather earn it on the field."

They didn't.

At least, offensively.

FSU amassed 177 yards, the fewest since 173 in a 34-17 loss to Nebraska in 1986. It failed to score -- linebacker Michael Boulware returned a fumble for the lone touchdown -- for the first time since the 2001 Orange Bowl against Oklahoma.

Sophomore quarterback Adrian McPherson accepted much of the blame. Making his fourth start, he was 8-for-20 for 80 yards and was sacked four times by a blitz-happy defense. "I felt (the receivers) were open down the field and I should have made the throws," he said. "I just hold myself responsible."

Chris Rix came on in the final minute. He was 5-for-7 for 63 yards and rushed twice for a team-high 22 before throwing an interception in the end zone with eight seconds left.

His showing might have renewed a quarterback debate in Tallahassee, something that doesn't bode well with Florida coming to town Saturday.

"I've got to look at this thing real good," said FSU coach Bobby Bowden, whose team has lost four games in consecutive seasons for the first time in his 27-year tenure. "This was a game where the quarterback just wasn't hot."

It didn't help that tailback Nick Maddox showed signs of inactivity. He sat out last weekend's game with a sprained right ankle then did not practice for a couple of days. As a team, FSU had 34 yards rushing.

Nor did it help that center Antoine Mirambeau and guard Montrae Holland left after aggravating injuries that kept them out of recent games.

But give credit to N.C. State (10-3, 5-3), which snapped a three-game losing streak and hit double-digit victories for the first time. "It was a great effort defensively," said Chuck Amato, the Wolfpack coach and longtime FSU defensive assistant. "It's a shame that it wouldn't go down as 17-0, but we'll take it. We did a great job of disguising some plays. We blitzed all over, and our kids just had a great effort." Offensively, as it did in last season's 34-28 victory at Doak Campbell Stadium, the Wolfpack used multiple alignments and frenetic shifts to try to confuse the Seminoles. They helped buy quarterback Philip Rivers a little more time to find receivers underneath for short, time-consuming plays.

Up 3-0 midway through the second quarter, Rivers had the Wolfpack in position for another score, but Amato got too cute. On fourth and 7 from the FSU 19, he faked a 37-yard field goal. Holder Chris Young kept the ball and ran. But defensive end Alonzo Jackson stripped the ball from Young, and Boulware scooped it up and returned it 84 yards for a touchdown and 7-3 lead. As a result, N.C. State wasted a 17-play, 83-yard drive that took 8:16.

"We probably should have scored a touchdown if we hadn't fumbled the ball," Amato said. "I told the team and the coaching staff not to hold anything back." Amato returned to trickery during the waning minutes of the half. On second and 20 from the Wolfpack 39, Josh Brown lined up behind center in the shotgun with Rivers split out wide to the left. Brown took the snap and, thanks to a block by Rivers on cornerback Rufus Brown, raced 60 yards. After an illegal procedure, T.A. McLendon powered his way up the middle for a 6-yard touchdown and 10-7 halftime lead.

"All we needed was one score," FSU linebacker Kendyll Pope said. "I kept saying, 'I know we're going to put points on the board."'

They didn't.

After the Seminoles stopped N.C. State on downs at the goal line early in the fourth, an offensive holding in the end zone resulted in a safety. After the free kick, the Wolfpack added a 44-yard field goal then blocked a punt out of the end zone for another safety. N.C. State fans took to the end zone with eight seconds left then poured onto the field.

"It's bittersweet with the fact that we just lost and we had to have someone else (win the ACC) for us," Bowden said. "I know this. We realize this year the importance of winning the conference."

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