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FSU up to the challenge

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By HUBERT MIZELL

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 5, 2000


NEW ORLEANS -- In this funky Louisiana town of jazz, jambalaya and A Streetcar Named Desire, the FSU Seminoles reached double-deep in the fourth quarter, down to their palpitating hearts, to survive Virginia Tech and the blurring quarterback magic of Michael Vick.

National Champions

FSU 46, Va. Tech 29

Main story

A great makes it official [Gary Shelton]

FSU up to the challenge [Hubert Mizell]


The game in photos

QB Vick: 'Had it in our hands'

Seminole fans set to pull an all-nighter

Turning point

Warrick gets sweet redemption

NFL alumni turn out for Seminoles

Peg him as this: a coach

Good, but could be better

Warrick's turnaround

Rival fans paint town red

More fun than Mardi Gras.

It was late Tuesday night. Long-shot, heroic Hokies were within reach of one of history's most startling national championship upsets. Vick, tougher to grab than an electrified cloud, appeared to have Florida State on the Superdome ropes.

Virginia Tech led 29-28.

It was like Ali-Frazier. Captivating sports combat. Two slugging, hungry, creative heavyweights. Then, when it counted most, 'Noles quality would explode. Taking down a wondrous underdog. Vick, in the end, being slightly outflashed by Peter "The Great" Warrick.

Listen to 'Noles chanting. You'll hear it for months. See them gloriously chopping. After some 1990s near misses, Florida State is finally a double national champ, for the first time with an undefeated, untied, unrelenting season.

'00 what a feeling.

Virginia Tech, a fledgling at such lofty college football stratosphere, played more than competitively. More than entertainingly. Florida State had every ounce of challenge it could handle.

But, oh, FSU did handle.

Warrick played with the sizzle, style and victorious effect of a kid who maybe should've won the Heisman Trophy. Getting the 'Noles going with a touchdown reception covering 64 yards. Finishing it off with a 43-yard scoring pass from Chris Weinke. In between, a 59-yard TD punt return.

Most impressively, the gifted senior from Bradenton ignored a world of taunts, a result of his infamous Dillard's shopping for bargains, to play dazzling football, against the Florida Gators in a major November moment and now Virginia Tech for the biggest prize of all.

Before the 46-29 concert was over, Florida State boosters were chanting, "Pee-ter War-rick! Pee-ter War-rick!" He was voted MVP. Now we'll see if the Cleveland Browns, with the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft, have the smarts to choose the remarkable No. 9.

Tech was dominating early, amassing a 114-8 yardage edge, but blowing a sweet opportunity by fumbling into FSU's end zone. Soon, with 0-0 still in scoreboard lights, Warrick went smoking past cornerback Anthony Midget to snag the 64-yarder.

A theme was developing.

Warrick would soon do something more astonishing. Virginia Tech is renowned for covering kicks. Hokies pour onto returners like honey enveloping a hot biscuit. All season, the Hokies had allowed a total of 46 punt return yards.

But the mighty man from Florida State fielded a kick on one bounce. Sensing a crack in Tech coverage, Peter the Great bolted through Hokies on a 59-yard touchdown runback. Longest ever allowed in the 13 seasons of Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer.

Warrick was wondrous, but really there should've been co-MVPs. Vick earned some kind of trophy. FSU is blessed with some quick, skilled defensive guys, but the Virginia Tech freshman was all but uncatchable.

On one Vick scramble, six 'Noles had shots and whiffed. Looking like little kids chasing bubbles. Reaching, jabbing, poking but then stumbling to the ground with empty hands. On 23 rushing attempts, the freshman gained 145 yards but also lost 48 on sacks.

Truly an unforgettable kid.

Heroes were numerous. Warrick with six catches for 163 yards and three touchdowns. Weinke, a 27-year-old former pro baseball minor leaguer, threw for four touchdowns and 329 yards. There was pass-catching splendor, too, from Ron Dugans, who busted a 63-yard touchdown. He had a second TD catch as the Hokies were at last being put away.

Bobby Bowden said, "I needed this one." For now, he's the only football coach to win national championships in two millenniums. Two coaching sons of Bowden have achieved unbeaten seasons, Tommy at Tulane and Terry at Auburn. Now, their 70-year-old daddy gets his.

More than that, the Bowden 'Noles avoid being sadly cast with some of the near-missers of sports, including baseball's Atlanta Braves and pro football's Buffalo Bills.

Forget that.

FSU is a wall-to-wall winner.

* * *

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