FSU 37, ND 0: 'Noles dominate from the start to take the sting out of '02 loss.
By BRIAN LANDMAN
Published November 2, 2003
FSU's Chris Rix tries to escape Victor Abiamiri as he makes one of his many big plays of the day, scrambling for a first down.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. - As teammates celebrated around him, Florida State junior safety B.J. Ward yanked a shoebox-sized chunk of sod from Notre Dame's hallowed field.
He planned to plant it in FSU's "cemetery" as a lasting testament to a 37-0 road win Saturday afternoon, but didn't get off the field with it. An usher abruptly stopped him, not that he was particularly stealthy holding it above his head, and confiscated his plush, green prize.
"But I have some nice pictures of it," he said, smiling.
As if he or any other Seminole would need 8-by-10s to remember this game.
A year after they were embarrassed by the Fighting Irish at Doak Campbell Stadium, receiver Craphonso Thorpe, who buried his grandfather Friday, and an opportunistic defense helped the No.5 Seminoles (8-1) emphatically return the favor.
The Irish (2-6) had not been shut out at home since Sept.9, 1978, when Missouri won 3-0. That's a span of 150 home games or before any current Seminole player was born.
The only other lopsided home shutout loss came Oct.27, 1956, when No.1 Oklahoma routed the Irish and their eventual Heisman Trophy quarterback Paul Hornung 40-0.
"I don't know why we were able to do what we did tonight," coach Bobby Bowden said.
This much is clear. It had nothing to do with the Four Horsemen riding again. Or Touchdown Jesus smiling on the Irish or Rudy coming off the sideline to inspire teammates. Or Shawn Wooden batting down a pass on the game's last play as he did against Charlie Ward to preserve Notre Dame's 31-24 win in the 1993 showdown of the nation's top teams.
Nor did it have to do with quarterback Chris Rix turning the ball over. Last year, he had three, including an interception and fumble in the span of a few minutes in the third quarter that enabled the Irish to open a tie game and cruise to a 34-24 win. He had three interceptions Saturday, but he made big plays.
A lot of them. He and Thorpe, that is.
Thorpe ran by Notre Dame's top corner, Vontez Duff, and hauled in a 38-yard pass on the game's first play. That matched the longest pass play allowed by the Irish this season.
"Coach (Jeff Bowden) told us he planned to go deep on that first play, but he didn't know how he would get it done," said Thorpe, who had a career-high 217 yards, the most by a single player against Notre Dame. "He said he originally thought he might send me in motion and let P.K. (Sam) run the deep route. I guess he changed his mind."
Bowden, the offensive coordinator, said he learned from last year's debacle. The Irish showed two-deep on FSU's wideouts, but at the last minute would sneak a safety into the box to stop the run. The Seminoles didn't try for the home run.
"Last year, they bluffed us out of doing that," Jeff Bowden said.
After Xavier Beitia capped that drive with a 40-yard field, the first of three field goals for the former Jesuit star, Rix connected with Thorpe on a 51-yarder.
"I was able to give him a chance to make a play and he went up and made a play and he really made me look good," said Rix, who threw for 327 yards and three touchdowns.
"That's all we ask Rix to do; just give us a chance," said Thorpe, who flew to Chicago late Friday after attending his paternal grandfather's funeral.
Rix then hit Sam on a 6-yard fade for a touchdown and 10-0 lead midway through the first. Rix later found Thorpe for a 35-yard touchdown in the final minute of the quarter.
"That's where we took charge of the ballgame, being able to get long stuff," Bobby Bowden said.
The defense maintained control, all but silencing the Irish fans among the crowd of 80,795.
B.J. Ward blocked a short field goal, his school record-tying seventh career block, to erase one Rix turnover. After an interception by defensive tackle Jeff Womble, Rix again looked for his favorite big-play partner. Thorpe sped by Duff, again in single coverage, pulled in a long pass, faked safety Lionel Bolen, and trotted in for a 38-yard touchdown early in the third. Cornerback Leroy Smith closed out scoring, returning an interception 90 yards for a touchdown.
"To come into a place like this (and win), it's an experience we're never going to forget," Rix said. "To beat a quality team who really embarrassed us last year, it couldn't have worked out any better."
Well, if the Seminoles had something for their "sod" cemetery.
Fear not. They do. Receiver Willie Reid was more clandestine with a small piece he stashed in his helmet as he walked off the field.