By BRIAN LANDMAN, Times Staff Writer
The freshman QB shows his poise in rallying the Seminoles in a key ACC matchup.
CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. - Florida State redshirt freshman quarterback Drew Weatherford looked a bit lost ... and so did the game.
For the better part of three quarters Saturday night, the Boston College Eagles, playing in their long-anticipated inaugural ACC game, dominated the Seminoles on both sides of the ball.
But when the Seminoles needed Weatherford to look like a veteran, he seemed unflappable and guided them to a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns and a 28-17 come-from-behind win before an announced sellout crowd of 44,500 at Alumni Stadium and a national television audience.
The former Land O'Lakes star, in his first road start, completed 8 of 9 passes for 56 yards, including the go-ahead touchdown strike to freshman receiver Greg Carr, on the game-changing drive. That came after he and the Seminoles saw what appeared to be a sure touchdown pass end in a fumble.
"We didn't do a good job of executing in the first half, and a lot of that was on me," Weatherford said. "We went out after halftime and made some changes. Our coaches did a good job of putting us in situations where we could execute."
Ditto the FSU defense. After being bullied in the first half, the defense, especially its line, answered some questions in emphatic fashion. FSU shut out the Eagles in the second half, the third straight time it has done that, culminating with an impressive goal-line stand in the final moments.
B.C. had six plays from the 2 and gained 1 yard, and that came on a defensive holding.
The No. 8 Seminoles (3-0, 2-0) took early command of the Atlantic division and the race for a spot in the inaugural ACC title game Dec. 3 in Jacksonville. Meanwhile, the No. 17 Eagles (2-1, 0-1) suffered a disappointing, albeit not an insurmountable, setback.
At the outset, the Seminoles looked ready to welcome the Eagles to the league quite rudely.
Quarterback Quinton Porter, who completed 42 of 55 passes (76 percent) for four touchdowns and no interceptions against BYU and Army, threw an interception on the first play from scrimmage. Linebacker A.J. Nicholson easily picked it off and returned it 19 yards for a touchdown.
Seven seconds in, seven points down.
Nicholson came up with his second interception moments later to stop a drive, and the Seminoles quickly capitalized. Weatherford hit Carr on a fade route to the right for a 20-yard touchdown and a 14-0 lead.
But the Eagles responded, dominating the line of scrimmage behind their experienced, mammoth offensive line (averaging about 317 pounds) that coach Bobby Bowden had likened to an NFL group size-wise.
"Their offensive line was as good as everybody said," Nicholson said. "They were big up front and were opening up huge holes for the running game."
Mixing straight-ahead runs with short passes, the Eagles drove almost at will for 17 points on their next three possessions to take the lead early in the second quarter.
"They controlled the ball; I think we had it eight minutes (actually 7:41) in the first half," Bowden said. "It's hard to generate offense when you only have the ball for eight minutes."
The Seminoles offense finally started moving the ball late in the third quarter as a sharper Weatherford hit Lorenzo Booker on a screen. Booker cut across the field and raced down the left sideline for what looked like a sure 33-yard touchdown.
But defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka, the Big East defensive player of the year in 2004 and the favorite to win that award in the ACC, chased down Booker and stripped him near the goal line. The ball went out of bounds in the end zone for a touchback. A replay didn't reverse the call.
Hardly. Weatherford, working strictly from the shotgun, was nearly flawless on his next series to answer the critics and silence the crowd.
"I wouldn't say we ran out of gas," Eagles linebacker Ray Henderson said. "They took it to us in the second half."
"They got into a lot of spread formations, and they spread the field on us," coach Tom O'Brien added. "It seemed like they were able to complete passes in the middle of the field and move from there."
Sophomore Matthew Ryan, in for Porter who injured his right ankle late in the third quarter, was unable to move the Eagles as the Seminoles defense took command. Freshman safety Darius McClure blocked a punt and Booker followed with a 4-yard touchdown run with 3:53 left to seal the win the defense punctuated with its stout stand.
"This is a very important victory, our first on the road against a very good Boston College team," Weatherford said. "Our team did a good job of just keeping the faith and playing four quarters of football."