By BRIAN LANDMAN, Times Staff Writer
Published December 5, 2005
JACKSONVILLE - He didn't say anything his teammates weren't thinking or itching to express themselves.
Hey, fellas. The ACC championship still comes through Florida State.
Everything folks are saying about Virginia Tech, they should be saying about us.
It's absurd no one is giving us a shot.
But few expected to hear that from redshirt freshman quarterback Drew Weatherford as the Seminoles huddled on the eve of Saturday night's inaugural ACC Championship Game.
"I just let everybody know how much trust and faith I had in our team, and that we were going to have to come out together as a team and get this thing done," the former Land O'Lakes star said.
He and the Seminoles, who were in a free fall after losing their previous three and appeared headed for a lesser bowl, took a stunning 27-3 lead, then held off the Hokies 27-22 at Alltel Stadium to win the league title and a spot in the Bowl Championship Series.
The official BCS announcement Sunday confirmed the obvious: that the Seminoles (8-4), back in the AP poll at No.22, will be in the Orange Bowl on Jan.3 against Big Ten champ Penn State (10-1) in a matchup of major-college football's most successful coaches, Bobby Bowden and Joe Paterno. The coaches and their teams last met in South Florida in the 1990 Blockbuster Bowl; FSU won 24-17.
"I can't even hardly believe right now that's what's happening," Bowden said. "After us losing our last three ballgames and falling from grace and falling out of the polls and us being at our lowest point and going into that last game where we did not have a chance and the next night, here we are going to a BCS bowl. There's 20 teams ahead of us, they ain't going to get to go to a BCS bowl. So I feel very fortunate for us."
"It puts Florida State back on track," senior linebacker A.J. Nicholson said.
After a tough month threatened to derail the season. Negativity enveloped the team as fans blamed the playcalling of Jeff Bowden, the miscues of players including Weatherford, the recruiting that left the team thin along the offensive line and even the play of the defense. Still, the Seminoles managed to stay together and assumed an us-against-the-world mentality.
"It's all about the locker room," Weatherford said, who planted a kiss on the orange he held in the moments after the Virginia Tech win.
After Bobby Bowden and senior tailback Leon Washington addressed the team Friday night in its hotel, the coaches left and other upperclassmen reiterated an oft-spoken message that they could salvage the season, restore some pride, with a win. Nose guard Brodrick Bunkley, the former Chamberlain standout, stood on a chair and did his best Mel Gibson a la William Wallace.
"I got up there for a little Braveheart deal: "We must fight. We must be victorious,"' he said.
Then Weatherford stepped up.
That took the players by surprise.
"Just to see little Drew Weatherford get up and go off on the team (was something else)," Bunkley said. "He had everybody up, hooting and hollering. You like to see that in a young quarterback. He has that desire in his heart and that will to win."
"When he did that, we all got together," Washington added. "We knew. We just knew. A freshman doing that, that's leadership. I told him (that night), "That leadership will carry this program a long way."'
As a sign of unity, at the suggestion of senior center David Castillo, the Seminoles left the tunnel to come out on the field holding hands. They then backed up the words and gestures with action.
Not only did the playcallers put Weatherford in the shotgun and spread the field more than in recent weeks, a patchwork offensive line gave him time against the nation's stingiest defense.
He completed 21 of 35 passes for 225 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. He had thrown 13 interceptions in his previous six games. He was sacked once compared with 11 times in the three straight losses to North Carolina State, Clemson and Florida.
"We stayed together as a team and we fed off of each other," Castillo said. "We finally got Drew a little bit of time, and you can see what that kid can do."
INJURY REPORT: Linebacker Marcello Church fractured his left ankle, Bunkley and Castillo sprained their right ankles, receiver Greg Carr had a right hip pointer and safety Anthony Houllis had a concussion.