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And an old man shall lead them

By HUBERT MIZELL

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 10, 2000


ATLANTA -- That is the 'Noles mind-set? Where is Florida State's championship concentration? Hold up a hand, maybe a tomahawk-chopping limb, if you're an FSU soul ravenous for the No. 1 consistency of a phenomenal 12-0 season just past.

Glory was throbbing.

College football's incumbent kings won their 14th straight game, surviving an aroused if overmatched Georgia Tech team that played with a heart bigger than Dixie itself.

'Noles managed by 26-21, only because Chris Weinke opted to return for his senior season, a grand NCAA graybeard who eventually popped Tech's party balloons with two touchdowns and 443 yards passing, becoming history's No. 1 launcher at the always imposing Bobby Bowden Air Academy.

Still, the 'Noles, for a painfully long time Saturday night, were self-inflicted with stumbles both physical and mental. Their worldly status, ACC stranglehold and around-the-calendar winning streak were in jeopardy until Tech's last fling fell incomplete with 95 seconds left.

Repeating, it's so difficult.

There was an early whiff of FSU attitude. A shocker, really, but a flash of fun. On the first 'Noles possession, with fourth and 1 at their 40, they chose a roll-the-dice gamble for a first down. Made it, too.

At the time, you wondered, was it supreme Florida State self-confidence, perhaps a touch of garnet-and-gold arrogance, or simply an early attempt to convince the Yellow Jackets they didn't belong in the same ballpark?

Before long, it did appear the ACC dominators (63-2 all-time) might well put a quick kayo on Tech's jaw, leading 12-0 with Weinke launching a 63-yard touchdown scud, but this year's 'Noles would continue to be far from such excellence. Such elegance.

What a shindig it became.

As a football setting, in the gentle cool of a September evening, Georgia Tech was an invigorating piece of American sporting art. What a poster! Where have you gone, Norman Rockwell, with your red, white and blue brush?

Bobby Dodd Stadium, with a history so long and grand, roaring with youthful combat, a flurry of downtown Atlanta skyscrapers lurking magnificently near. All topped by a full Georgia moon.

FSU, with a 20-point halftime bulge seemingly in comfortable reach, began dropping passes. There were brain wanderings. A critical William McCray fumble. Too many poor decisions.

Later, there came a maddening foul for roughing a quarterback. Georgia Tech kept being encouraged. Enlivened. Luck was sweetening for the Jackets when they downed a punt at the 'Noles 1. Hold that thought.

Tech did belong.

Weinke, the 28-year-old quarterbacking elder, was splendid from the beginning. Linking with skinny wonder Marvin "Snoop" Minnis on spectacular completions, plus the 63-yard home run to Javon Walker. But then, out of the Fulton County blue, there came Marcus Outzen onto the field.

In a pickle at the FSU 1.

Immediately, your eyes searched FSU's bench. To see if Weinke was ailing. Maybe in the frenzied care of team medics. Was there sudden strain on the face of Bowden the 70-year-old coaching icon? Nope, the QB looked entirely hale. Wearing a ballcap. Clapping hands.

So why a relief pitcher?

For a moment, it seemed the Outzen quirk might work. He moved FSU from end-zone environs. But then, the hunch bet bit the 'Noles. Outzen threw an out pattern. Aiming for Robert Morgan. Tech defender Marvious Hester read it adroitly, stepping in front of FSU's catcher, intercepting and fleeing 50 uncontested yards for a touchdown.

Boom, it's 12-7.

FSU daring fate.

Georgia Tech has no Joe Hamilton at quarterback, the small Atlanta wonder having gone on to NFL employment with the Tampa Bay Bucs. But eager kids George Godsey and Jermaine Crenshaw put the white-shirted underdogs in glorious position for a whopper upset.

It moved well into the second half, with FSU in a considerable stall. Georgia Tech's hopes, beliefs and effectiveness kept escalating. If you thought top-ranked Nebraska survived a severe Saturday afternoon exam at Notre Dame, well, this one was evolving into a killer nightcap with a 22-point underdog going for the congested throat of a national champion.

Tech went ahead 15-12.

FSU worked to get gritty. To behave more like a champ. Moving downfield, aching to retake the lead. Even so, there came more bumps. A drive died at the Tech 22. Before the fourth began, the 'Noles had zero timeouts.

Weinke was 22-1 as FSU's ace pitcher. He's deep in grits. No quit. Next chance the old collegian earned, there came a heroic payoff. Weinke located Morgan on a crossing pattern. A laser was thrown. A touchdown pass that eased FSU's parched throats. Putting the 'Noles ahead 19-15 with 12:58 to go. He also generated another TD. FSU needed it all.

Thanks to Chris, they survived.

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