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Last 1 Standing
By BRIAN LANDMAN
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 5, 2000
NEW ORLEANS -- Florida State quarterback Chris Weinke, his neck in a brace after surgery and his head woozy from painkillers, was forced to stand on the sideline and watch last year's national championship game.
If only he could have played . . .
That was the refrain from Seminole fans after a disappointing and frustrating loss. Well, Weinke played in Tuesday's national title showdown against No. 2 Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl.
Showing the unflappability that has been his trademark, Weinke keyed a fourth-quarter comeback with touchdown passes to Ron Dugans and MVP Peter Warrick to lead the top-ranked Seminoles to a hard-fought 46-29 win, capping their first perfect season and cementing their place as one of the most dominant programs in college football history.
The Seminoles (12-0), who have won 10 or more games and finished in the Top 4 an NCAA-record 13 straight years -- a formality when the final Associated Press poll is released today -- will become the first team to go wire-to-wire as No. 1.
They will now be able to put another trophy in the case alongside the one they won in 1993. FSU had failed in its past two national title games, losing to Florida in the 1997 Sugar Bowl and to Tennessee in last year's Fiesta Bowl.
"For me, this is something I've been waiting for," said Weinke, who completed 20 of 34 passes for 329 yards and four touchdowns. "I rehabbed for eight months to get a chance at a national championship. I had to watch last year and that left a sour taste in my mouth for 12 months.
"We faced a lot of adversity this year. We'd been down at halftime more times than we thought we would, but maybe this team needs to get behind to get focused. Again, we responded. That's what it about. That's why we just won the national championship because of the character of this football team."
The presence of Warrick helped, too.
The former Bradenton Southeast star, who was ready to bolt early for the NFL last year but couldn't leave after losing in the Fiesta Bowl, returned a punt 59 yards for a touchdown and caught six passes for 163 yards and two touchdowns (64 and 43 yards), the second sealing the win.
Named the MVP, he was serenaded by chants of "Peter Warrick, Peter Warrick," a far cry from the taunts of "Jailbird" that followed him earlier this season after he was arrested in a shopping scam at Dillard's.
"I don't know if we could have done it without Pete," FSU coach Bobby Bowden said.
But as folks saw last year against Tennessee in the Fiesta Bowl, Warrick could be reduced to a non-factor without his strong-armed, poised quarterback hurling the ball toward him. He had one catch for 7 yards.
Weinke was no bystander this time.
After the Hokies, down 28-7 early in the second quarter, rallied to take a 29-28 lead late in the third quarter behind the stellar running and passing of redshirt freshman Michael Vick, Weinke and the offense immediately answered.
"This team responds," Weinke said. "They (Virginia Tech) took the lead, but everyone thought the game was over. But everyone on our sideline knew that we were going to come back. We've been there before, we've done it before."
He completed 6 of 7 passes for 58 yards, including a 14-yard touchdown strike to receiver Ron Dugans with 12:59 left. He then hit Warrick for a two-point conversion and a 36-29 lead.
"There was a moment of truth late in the third quarter when they were fixing to win it and we came back and scored and got ahead of them and scored and scored," Bowden said.
Following a Vick fumble, Sebastian Janikowski hit a 32-yard field goal and then Weinke and Warrick hooked up for a long touchdown midway through the quarter.
"Before the play, I asked the offense if they wanted me to finish them," Warrick said.
"I thought they made some great plays," said Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer, whose team was playing in the biggest game of its 106-year history. "We made a great comeback there in the third quarter and let them come back or they came back. We have to give them credit. Warrick had a great night; what a performance by that guy."
On the first drive of the game, Vick immediately showed why he finished third in the Heisman Trophy balloting. He scrambled 25 yards on a second-and-14 and then ripped off 9 yards on the next play as the Hokies took the opening kickoff and marched effortlessly and methodically downfield.
But on a fourth-and-1 from the FSU 4, Vick spun to his right on an apparent option play and was stripped by blitzing safety Derrick Gibson. As the ball squirted into the end zone, FSU All-America defensive tackle Corey Simon dived on it for a touchback.
After the teams traded punts, the Seminoles struck.
Weinke, freezing Midget with a pump fake, hit Warrick in stride down the right side. Safety Nick Sorensen tried to catch Warrick, but his diving attempt near the goal line didn't prevent the 64 yard touchdown and a 7-0 FSU lead with 3:22 left in the opening quarter.
A bad snap to Vick in the shotgun and a poor decision by the redshirt freshman to throw the ball away, drawing an intentional grounding penalty, forced the Hokies to punt from their own 8.
Although the Hokies are renowned for blocking punts, the Seminoles aren't too shabby, either.
Linebacker Tommy Polley, who blocked a punt at Florida that set up the go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter, burst through the middle and sent Jimmy Kibble's punt bounding toward the left sideline. FSU backup tailback Jeff Chaney scooped it up and returned it 6 yards for a score and a 14-0 lead with 2:14 remaining in the first quarter.
The Hokies, however, showed their poise and responded.
In a big way.
Vick hooked up with receiver Andre Davis, who sped past cornerback Clevan Thomas, for a 49-yard touchdown in the final minute of a wild opening quarter that the Hokies dominated in almost every statistical area. They had the ball for 13:01.
Yet the Seminoles made the most of their handful of plays and that continued in the second quarter, beginning with the third play. Weinke threw a dart to receiver Ron Dugans, a ball that a diving Ike Charlton nearly deflected, but he was left sprawled on the AstroTurf watching Dugans race 63 yards for a 21-7 lead.
The FSU defense forced a three-and-out on the next series and, for the second time, showed off its extra-special special teams. This time, the moment belonged to Warrick.
He fielded the punt on a hop, started to his left and then cut back and ran untouched down the right sideline for a 59-yard touchdown and a 28-7 lead with 11:40 left in the half. The Hokies had allowed 36 yards on punt returns this season.
Virginia Tech tried a little Bobby Bowden-like razzle-dazzle a few minutes later, faking a long field goal, but it failed. Late in the half, the Hokies went back to what had worked so well previously - letting Vick improvise.
After spinning away from defensive end David Warren - he was off-side on the play - Vick ran to his right and then cut back and raced 43 yards to the FSU 20. Vick capped the 80-yard drive moments later with a 3-yard keeper to cut the deficit to 28-14.
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