FSU 14, GA. TECH 13: Tech dominates through three quarters, then FSU's Chris Rix leads two late scoring drives to seal it.
By BRIAN LANDMAN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 14, 2003
TALLAHASSEE - For much of the game against Georgia Tech on Saturday night, Florida State's Chris Rix looked different than he had in the first two games.
Instead of performing like a smarter, more composed quarterback, he reverted to his old error-prone ways with two costly interceptions that left the Seminoles on the verge of a shocking loss.
"I just kept thinking about how N.C. State came back (against Ohio State) and how Miami came back against Florida last week," he said. "I just thought, "We've still got time. We've still got time."'
Down 13-0 with 12:26 left, Rix engineered a pair of touchdown drives - running one in from 3 yards out, then hitting receiver P.K. Sam on a 5-yarder - to lead the Seminoles to a dramatic 14-13 win in front of 82,133 at Doak Campbell Stadium.
The FSU defense, which played well in the second half despite allowing its first touchdown, sealed the win when safety Pat Watkins intercepted an overthrown pass from dazzling freshman quarterback Reggie Ball on a fourth and 7.
"I really have mixed emotions about this one," coach Bobby Bowden said. "It doesn't seem like we won. It was 54 minutes of getting beat and six minutes of winning. You go back and look at Ohio State last year. They were in those situations and won. That shows a lot of character and I think we showed a lot of character tonight."
No one could have predicted the No.10 Seminoles (3-0) would need such a remarkable finish. Though the Yellow Jackets were fresh off a convincing win against Auburn, a once trendy pick to contend for the national title, they are young, especially at quarterback.
Showing uncommon poise, quick feet and a strong right arm, Ball and the Yellow Jackets (1-2, 0-1) dominated the tenacious FSU defense in the first half. Tech outgained FSU 171-26 while holding possession a stunning 23:06.
Still, the Yellow Jackets largely squandered Ball's play, their field-position edge, a perfectly executed fake punt (Hal Higgins threw a 12-yard pass to Dawan Landry for a first down) and their smothering defensive effort.
After FSU stopped them on four downs from the 2, the Yellow Jackets took a 6-0 halftime lead on 35- and 45-yard field goals from Dan Burnett. Restless FSU fans booed the offense as the Seminoles, pinned at their 3, ran out the clock in the half.
Oklahoma, in the national championship game in the 2001 Orange Bowl, was the last team to shut out FSU in the opening half.
This Georgia Tech team is not of that ilk.
Rix finally had FSU driving on the team's first possession of the second half, but on a first down from the Tech 28, Rix badly overthrew tight end Matt Henshaw and Landry, the free safety, easily picked it off.
The Seminoles defense continued to stop Tech, holding it to 69 yards in the second half, and forced a critical turnover when linebacker Michael Boulware stripped the ball from Ball and defensive tackle Travis Johnson recovered at the Tech 46.
Rix led the Seminoles to the 3, then tried to float a ball to Thorpe in the right side of the end zone. Cornerback Reuben Houston, a player FSU seemingly had been picking on with success in the half, made a leaping pick and returned it 47 yards.
"It was a heartbreaker," Rix said.
Two plays later, sophomore tailback P.J. Daniels burst through the FSU defense for a 47-yard touchdown, his longest career run, Tech's longest run of the season and the first touchdown the FSU defense had allowed this season.
"It would have been so easy to quit when they intercepted that pass in the end zone and drove for a touchdown," Bowden said. "Last year's team would have laid down. Last year's team would not have come back. The year before that we weren't mature enough to come back. This year, the kids just simply would not give up."
Rix led a 12-play, 82-yard drive, powering in backward on a keeper for the final 3 yards to get FSU on the board 13-7 with 7:09 left. Rix was helped to the bench and had ice on the back of his neck before going back in to ignite the comeback.
"Something I've learned through all the ups and downs, is you have to keep on pushing through and you have to forget a play," Rix said. "If you have a great play, you have to forget about it. If you have a bad play, you have to forget about it. You've just got to move on."
After his throw to Sam, Rix leaned back and raised both arms triumphantly.
And to give thanks.
"We told our offense, if we've got their back, for them to have our backs," defensive end Kevin Emanuel said. "If we do that in the future, if we keep on believing in each other, we'll be all right."
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