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Once again, Ohio State's terrific regular season was tarnished by a bowl defeat.

Florida State and Ohio State ended up at the Sugar Bowl becauses of painful losses to arch-rivals.

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Bowden: 2 Minutes Turned Our Season

By Mary Foster
AP Sports Writer
Friday, January 2, 1998; 3:48 p.m. EST

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- There they were, celebrating a Sugar Bowl victory over Ohio State. Coach Bobby Bowden was joking, his players were high-fiving and grinning. It was a happy morning after, except for the nagging weight of what might have been if two minutes in a long season had gone differently.

``I'll always remember this as a year that we won the whole season except two minutes,'' Bowden said Friday. ``Other than two minutes of it, we played about as good as we could play over a 12-game span. And came within being that close of being a contender for a national championship.''

The No. 4 Seminoles' 31-14 victory Thursday over No. 9 Ohio State was their 11th bowl victory in 12 outings.

FSU played in the bowl game that decided the national championship twice in the last five years -- winning it in 1993, losing it in 1996 when Florida beat them 52-20 in the Sugar Bowl.

They thought they would play for the title again this year, but that dream died when Florida scored with less than two minutes remaining for a 32-29 victory in the final regular-season game. It was Florida State's only defeat.

``If your goal is to be No. 7, you can slip twice,'' Bowden said. ``If you goal is to be No. 1, you can't slip at all or you ain't gonna make it.

``That is our goal, it's most coaches' goal, but they won't say it. It's something they're afraid to say. But our goal at Florida State University is to win a national championship, so I'm telling you what it is already for next year, and there is simply no room for error.''

The Seminoles, who notched their 11th straight season with 10 or more victories, used a combination of pressure defense and big-play offense to beat Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl.

``We faced just relentless pressure throughout the game,'' said Ohio State coach John Cooper, whose team finished 10-3 after losing for the seventh time in nine bowl games during his tenure. ``Their pass rush is the best I've seen in a long, long time.''

Florida State quarterback Thad Busby bounced back from two first-quarter interceptions to throw for 334 yards, passing for one touchdown and running for another.

E.G. Green was named the game's MVP after catching seven passes for 176 yards, including a 27-yard TD. Andre Wadsworth (two sacks, one interception) spearheaded a defense that came up with 19 lost-yardage plays, including six quarterback sacks.

The Seminoles scored two quick touchdowns in the final 3 1/2 minutes of the second quarter for a 21-3 lead at the break. That was more than enough for a defense ranked in the top 10 nationally in all major categories.

Ohio State, averaging nearly 32 points and 413 yards per game, didn't reach the end zone until Joe Germaine escaped a heavy rush and threw a 50-yard touchdown pass to John Lumpkin, who made a spectacular, juggling grab with 8:57 remaining.

The Seminoles' big victory over an Ohio State team that lost at Michigan 20-14, was not a fair comparison of how Florida State would fair against the Wolverines, Bowden admitted, but his players didn't agree.

``We'd most definitely beat Michigan or Nebraska,'' Wadsworth said Friday. ``I wish they would have let us play Nebraska. I was looking forward to that. We feel we could have been the national champions. We feel we were so close. Look at Nebraska, they could have easily lost once or twice, but the ball bounced just right for them and not for us.''

Bowden said he would like to be playing one more game now that would settle it one way or another, even though he does not favor a playoff. And even if they did play it, even though he thinks this is one of his best teams ever, he knows there is no guarantee another game would prove it.

``I feel good with 11-1, I feel good,'' Bowden said. ``That's not what I wanted. I'll always be disappointed that we lost a ball game. Still, I feel like to win a national championship, No. 1 you've got to have a great team. But that don't do it. That's not good enough. You've got to be lucky. This is a great team that with a little bit more luck could have been there.''

© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press

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