tampabay.com

Quarterback, FSU grow more

The maturation of Drew Weatherford continues, this time including a go-ahead touchdown run.

By BRIAN LANDMAN
Published October 30, 2005


TALLAHASSEE - Florida State quarterback Drew Weatherford scampered to his feet, rushed toward the stands to celebrate, then turned immediately to trade leaping chest bumps with Lorenzo Booker.

"I just love the game. I love playing it," he said unabashedly.

No need to apologize for the emotional display, not after he ran 15 yards for the go-ahead touchdown in a dramatic 35-27 win against Maryland on Saturday afternoon before a homecoming crowd of 82,626 at Doak Campbell Stadium.

He doesn't, however, remember when exactly he peeled off his helmet or what his star tailback might have said.

"I couldn't hear anything," he said. "I couldn't even think straight."

Who could?

"Oh man, you think every week, "Okay. Drew's grown up,' but every week he continues to surprise you," Booker said. "The excitement he brings is something we haven't had around here since (Chris) Weinke."

Weinke won the Heisman Trophy as a senior in 2000, the last time the Seminoles played for a national title, and though the No. 10-ranked Seminoles (7-1, 5-1) don't have a realistic chance of reaching the Bowl Championship Series finale this year, a championship shot is now within reach.

If the Seminoles beat visiting North Carolina State on Saturday, they can clinch the top spot in the Atlantic Division and a trip to Jacksonville for the inaugural ACC title game on Dec. 3.

Weatherford has been the driving force. Weatherford has been the emotional force.

The former Land O'Lakes star, the ACC's passing leader coming in, overcame two interceptions to complete 27 of 37 for 264 yards and account for two touchdowns.

"He played about as good as we've seen around here in a long time," FSU coach Bobby Bowden said.

The Seminoles needed it. The Terrapins (4-4, 2-3), who stunned the Seminoles last year in College Park, erased a 14-0 lead behind a near-flawless second quarter by quarterback Joel Statham.

After starting out 0-for-4, Statham was benched in favor of ailing Sam Hollenbach, the Terps' starter all year who missed much of last week's practice with an injured left (non-throwing) shoulder.

Hollenbach lasted seven plays before Ernie Sims and tackle Emmanuel Dunbar sandwiched him, forcing the Terps to turn again to Statham, the hero of last year's win. He completed 8 of his next 10 for 135 yards, including two touchdowns, and added a 1-yard scoring run for a 21-14 halftime lead.

The deficit reached 24-14 before Weatherford answered with a touchdown strike to freshman receiver Greg Carr midway through the third quarter. The Seminoles defense, which had struggled in recent weeks, stopped the Terps.

But on second and 11 from the 24, he foolishly tried to throw it to Booker. Linebacker William Kershaw intercepted it and Weatherford walked off, head down.

After a Maryland field goal, Weatherford, shaking off a swollen left hand from a hit in the opening quarter, marched FSU downfield by hitting 4 of 4 for 42 yards. A pass interference on Carr helped, but the drive seemed to stall as the Seminoles faced third and 13 from the Maryland 15.

"I stepped up in the pocket looking to throw like I usually do and the middle of the field was vacated so I started running," he said.

He's not known for that. He scrambled earlier in the game and fumbled, just managing to recover it. This time, he started to cut toward the left sideline and picked up a key block from former Plant City receiver Joslin Shaw.

"I had a route and the play broke down and I did the best thing I could to try and make a play out of it," he said.

Weatherford said he owes him a dinner for the block, which allowed him to get to the edge and churn toward the end zone as two Maryland defenders closed on him. Weatherford paused to fake out one, then dove past Butkus Award finalist and former Seminole High standout D'Qwell Jackson for the score.

"It's just one of those plays, you've either got to make it or you don't," lamented Jackson, who had a game-high 15 tackles.

That touched off Weatherford's celebration and seemingly inspired the Seminoles. Moments later, linebacker Ernie Sims came up with a juggling interception that FSU turned into another touchdown to all but seal the win.

"You run sprints, he'll be the first guy. That's just his nature," Bowden said of Weatherford. "He wants to be first in everything he does."

It showed.