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Seminoles escape

After an ugly start, FSU rallies to beat a team that only recently moved up to Division I-A.

By BRIAN LANDMAN
Published September 10, 2006


TALLAHASSEE - Florida State coach Bobby Bowden had that uneasy feeling come over him Saturday night.

"Man, we're going to lose this game," he thought to himself as he paced the sideline in the fourth quarter.

In this, his 31st season, that's not unprecedented.

But rarely has that happened to him at home against an opponent as lightly regarded as Troy, a program that moved to Division I-A status in 2001 and had never beaten a Top 10 team.

"It was like a nightmare," he said. "It was like having a bad dream. I'm trying to run, but my legs won't go. I'm trying to scream for help, but my voice won't work. Have you ever had those kind of nightmares? Then you wake up in the night and you're yelling. ... That's how I felt."

If he was panicky, his players weren't.

The No. 9-ranked Seminoles rallied with a pair of touchdowns in the final 6:12 to avoid a historic upset and eke out a 24-17 win at Doak Campbell Stadium.

While FSU (2-0, 1-0) remains perfect, it does have Bowden scratching his head a bit with No. 18 Clemson (1-1, 0-1) coming here for a crucial ACC Atlantic Division showdown on Saturday.

- Why is the running game stuck in neutral? After being held to 1 yard on 25 carries in the opener at Miami, FSU had 45 yards on 28 attempts, although fullback Joe Surratt scored the winner on a 4-yard run.

- Why did the passing game led by ex-Land O'Lakes star Drew Weatherford struggle so much in the first half?

- Why did the defense, which held the Hurricanes to 134 yards, 17 in the second half, give up 295 yards this night?

It didn't help that FSU played an emotionally and physically draining game on Labor Day at the Orange Bowl. Sure, it didn't help that it had only a couple of days to get ready for the Trojans (1-1), who play a wide-open passing game with five receivers and an empty backfield.

Folks, albeit not the oddsmakers who made FSU better than a four-touchdown favorite, could not have expected the Seminoles to simply romp. History should have told them that.

Last year, FSU struggled against the Citadel, the supposed cupcake it strategically placed in the schedule following the Labor Day opener against Miami. It fell behind 10-3 before taking a 13-10 halftime lead and pulling away easily in the second half.

This was different.

Troy was different.

"I wouldn't say we're overrated. I'd say we underestimated them," Surratt said.

"I'm sure we caught them flat," Troy coach Larry Blakeney said.

Weatherford heated up in the second half, throwing a 17-yard touchdown to Greg Carr then setting up a 44-yard Gary Cismesia field goal that tied the score at 10.

The Trojans regained the lead thanks to a couple of breaks. First, Chris Davis, the former St. Petersburg Catholic star, muffed a punt that gave Troy the ball at the FSU 31. Then on third-and-7 from the 14, linebacker Buster Davis deflected a pass only to see the diving Gary Banks come up with the ball at the 1. Troy quarterback Omar Haugabook ran the ball in for a 17-10 lead.

But Weatherford, showing uncommon poise especially given the feelings consuming FSU fans in the stands and even his coach, rallied his team. He capped a near-flawless drive with a 15-yard dart to Davis for a touchdown to tie the score with 6:12 left.

"I knew I couldn't drop that one. I had to catch that one," said Davis, who felt he dropped a sure touchdown earlier in the game. "With us needing to score, I knew I had to come through with that. Drew had faith to throw it to me again, and I made the play."

Following an interception by Buster Davis, the national defensive player of the week after a strong performance in Monday's 13-10 win at Miami, Surratt gave FSU the lead. Moments later, sophomore linebacker Geno Hayes sealed the win with an interception.

"Nobody ever got down," FSU defensive tackle Andre Fluellen said. "We knew we could win this game. There was never a question about that."