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Composed Rix, Seminoles start season on high note

FSU 37, UNC 0: The junior quarterback shakes off miscues that plagued him last season.

BRIAN LANDMAN
Published August 31, 2003

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - While some players might have chosen to move on already, Florida State quarterback Chris Rix purposely reminded himself of his dismal, error-prone performance here two years ago.

He wrote "payback" on his wrist tape.

Then he and the No.13-ranked Seminoles got some, thank you, beating North Carolina 37-0 Saturday night in front of 59,800 to avenge their last loss at Kenan Stadium.

"It meant a lot," Rix said of the win. "I'm so proud of the guys."

But if that loss Sept.22, 2001, was a harbinger of the struggles to come the rest of that season and again last year - nine total losses - perhaps this win is a different omen.

Maybe, just maybe, some payback is in store for others.

"I hope it shows you a different mentality," FSU coach Bobby Bowden said. "I hope it shows you a different strain of leadership."

The offense amassed 553 yards, the best output since it had 554 against Virginia in Week 2 last season, and Rix, plagued by inconsistency in the past and suspect decisionmaking, was almost flawless. He completed 17-of-26 for 232 yards and a touchdown - a 7-yard dart to redshirt freshman receiver Chris Davis, the former St. Petersburg Catholic star. Rix added two rushing touchdowns and zero turnovers.

Rix, looking composed and in command from the start, took advantage of a soft Tar Heels defense, throwing mainly underneath and in the flats to open receivers and backs who turned short, safe completions into chain-moving plays.

"I just tried to be calm and relaxed," Rix said. "I knew what I had to do. ... I just tried to move the ball down the field and we were efficient doing that.

"... The guys who were here (in 2001) remembered how it felt and our goal was to make sure that didn't happen again and we walked off this field with a convincing victory.

"We showed glimpses of being back, but we're not going to get comfortable now," he added. "This was a start and we showed what we can do when we play together."

"Rix's play was excellent," Bowden said.

Two years ago, as a redshirt freshman in his third start, he completed 8-of-21 for 112 yards. He threw one interception and lost two fumbles as UNC scored 34 unanswered in the second half for a 41-9 win.

Meanwhile, the defense notched its first shutout since a 31-0 win against Louisville in Tallahassee on Sept.23, 2000 - a season the ended with a third straight national championship game appearance - and the first shutout at the opponents' home field since a 59-0 win against South Carolina on Nov.5, 1988.

Many of the 10 returning starters on defense were on the field that day in 2001, including tackle Darnell Dockett, linebackers Kendyll Pope and Michael Boulware and cornerback Stanford Samuels. They had not forgotten how easily UNC scored that afternoon. Nor how the Tar Heels fans stormed the field and tore down the goal posts.

"It (payback) was the only thing on my mind," Samuels said. "We got off that bus we got that eerie feeling; flashbacks. I woke up in a cold sweat today. I knew we had to come out here and take care of business."

This time, they contained the Heels' dangerous quarterback Darian Durant, who led the ACC in total offense last season with an average of 258.8 yards. Durant, who had a cramp and was replaced by former Florida quarterback C.J. Stephens late in the third quarter, finished with 145 yards passing and 17 yards rushing.

UNC (0-1) reached the red zone once.

"The team we played has got some awesome athletes," UNC coach John Bunting said. "They have the players that I want to recruit."

Blame some big plays from the FSU defense, including a big hit from safety B.J. Ward that knocked the ball loose from Chris Curry before he land in the back of the end zone in the second quarter, an interception by Samuels in the end zone in the third quarter and a forced fumble by Ward late in the third and an interception by safety Pat Watkins in the fourth.

"This was more like it," Bowden said.

"I won't say we're back, but just compare this to last year."

Amazing what a little extra motivation will do, huh? And the Seminoles sure had it on this day, for this opponent, at this site.

"This is the team that started the fall of the dynasty," Ward said. "Hopefully, we're back on track."

For more paybacks?

Write it down. Perhaps.

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