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That's a Wrap

Leon Washington's TD in overtime gives 'Noles ACC title, BCS berth.

BRIAN LANDMAN
Published November 16, 2003

TALLAHASSEE - As he turned up the field and approached the goal line, Florida State sophomore tailback Leon Washington's eyes widened with anticipation.

"That had to be the biggest hole I've seen in my life," he said. "You could drive a semi-truck through that one, boy."

He knew he would fit through. He knew he was about to score the biggest touchdown of his young career. He knew, judging from the roar of the crowd at Doak Campbell Stadium, then the reaction from his swarming teammates, it would be one of the biggest runs in some time for FSU.

With his 12-yard run in the second overtime, capping a season-best 272-yard rushing performance for the team, he and the Seminoles rebounded from a loss to eke out a 50-44 win against ACC nemesis North Carolina State on Saturday.

That clinched the league title, their ninth outright championship since joining the league in 1992 (they shared it twice), and the prestigious BCS bid that goes with it. That means a trip to the Orange or Fiesta or, less likely but possible, the Rose Bowl. Had they lost, the holiday destination could have been Jacksonville for the Gator Bowl.

"Twelve years in the conference and never has a (league) game been as meaningful to us," coach Bobby Bowden said.

The stakes were that high.

The motivations that many.

In addition to winning the league and BCS bid, the No.13 Seminoles (9-2, 7-1) were looking to re-establish themselves as a power after a 26-10 loss at Clemson and looking to end a two-game skid to the Wolfpack and former longtime FSU defensive assistant, coach Chuck Amato.

Throw in homecoming and the seniors' final home game for good measure. Then there was the memory of Devaughn Darling, who died during an offseason conditioning workout in February, 2001. He would have been honored as a senior on this night. Darlings' parents, who are suing the university for wrongful death, were invited to the game and were among the 83,854 on hand to witness history.

FSU had played in one other overtime game, losing that one at Louisville last season.

Using senior Greg Jones, Washington and Lorenzo Booker, the Seminoles ran the ball better than they had this season. And the Wolfpack was the ACC's stingiest against the run.

"You would have thought we were going to throw the football and we were ready to come out and throw it every down if we had to," Bowden said.

But quarterback Chris Rix struggled and almost was pulled after the first half.

Still, the Seminoles, down by as many as 10 late in the first half, rallied and were tied at 37 when senior cornerback Stanford Samuels stripped the ball from sophomore receiver Brian Clark, a former Chamberlain star. Safety B.J. Ward recovered at the Wolfpack 42 with 2:13 left.

Rix completed an 11-yard pass to receiver P.K. Sam, helping set up former Jesuit standout Xavier Beitia for a 32-yard field goal with five seconds left. He hit it low and freshman Derek Morris blocked it to force overtime.

Beitia had converted from 36, 25 and 24 yards.

Unlike Louisville last year when Rix began overtime with an interception, he threw a perfect fade to Craphonso Thorpe for 20 yards and finished the drive with a 4-yard strike to Thorpe, who later suffered what officials believe to be a broken right leg.

The Wolfpack (7-4, 4-3), a trendy preseason pick to win the league for the first time since 1979, answered as senior quarterback Philip Rivers hit halfback Tramain Hall for a 7-yard score, shedding a tackle from hobbling middle linebacker Allen Augustin.

"I felt real bad," said Augustin, who was nursing a sprained left ankle. "I had to make something happen."

He did. The former walk-on knocked Rivers' pass away on fourth and 1 from the 16 to stop the Wolfpack in the second overtime.

Amato, who used two kickers and saw his team miss an extra point and a 37-yard field goal, did not second guess his call.

"The right thing is probably to kick the field goal and make them have to score a touchdown," Amato said. "I said, "Hey. Let's win. Let's let them have the tough thing to do and score a touchdown, too.' I don't want to play 25 overtimes."

The Seminoles then put the game in Washington's hands and, after a 13-yard run off left tackle (a play that ended with Thorpe going down as linebacker Stephen Tulloch rolled into his leg from behind), he followed with the winner.

"We fought all night long," Washington said. "We never gave up. We had faith in each other and it's great to bounce back with a great win."

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