Some would call it a trick play the way Oklahoma beat Florida State, 18-17, tonight in the Orange Bowl. Oklahoma, which uses the forward pass about as often as it snows here, actually won a game with it. This wishbone team had to.
Getting the ball at his 22 with 3:19 to play and trailing by seven points, quarterback J. C. Watts led the fourth-ranked Sooners 78 yards to victory, helped immensely when FSU defenders twice dropped potential interceptions.
Finaly, with 1:27 left, Watts passed 11 yards to wide receiver Steve Rhodes for the touchdown, them completed a two-point conversion pass to wide-open tight end Forrest Valora.
For Rhodes, it was the first touchdown pass of his collegiate career. He earlier had caught a 42-yard throw from Watts, who then passed 14 yards to Chet Winters, and ran 10 yards himself to the 11. On the next play, Defender Jarvis Coursey dropped an interception.
"We win with our running game," Rhodes said. "Tonight, it happened we won wth a pass . . . That's the first time they ever threw to me in the end zone." w
For the night, Watts, the most valuable player a year ago, completed seven of 12 passes for 128 yards without an interception. The Sooners gained only 156 yards rushing and lost five of seven fumbles. The last one accounted for FSU's go-ahead touchdown, when punter Mike Keeling let a snap go through his hands and the ball rolled into the end zone where FSU all-American defensive back Bobby Butler fell on it with 11:07 to play.
Even after Oklahoma regained the lead, second-ranked FSU had a chance to win. Without any timeouts remaining, the Seminoles reached the Oklahoma 45 where, with two seconds to play, the clock was stopped because a Sooner had been hurt.
That gave Bill Capece, FSU's all-American kicker who went into the game successful on 22 of 30 fieldgoal attempts in a 10-1 regular season, a chance to set up for a 62-yard try. The kick was true but short a few yards.
FSU Coach Bobby Bowden, who earlier today saw his team's national championship aspirations all but evaporate in Georgia's 17-10 victory over Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl, also saw the Seminoles's first major bowl victory stolen on passes by a team that hardly ever passes.
"It was ridiculous for a wishbone team to throw the ball against us the way they did," Bowden said. "They made one more play than we did. This is one of the most disappointing losses I've ever had."
It also was the first time this season forida had been scored on the fourth quarter.
"I'd have to say it was a miracle," Butler said. "We outplayed them the whole game, but the scoreboard doesn't say that."
For the record, Florida State produced 263 yards, only 21 fewer than the Sooners. But the main statistic was that the Seminoles neither lost a fumble nor had a pass intercepted.
"We had it all the way," quipped Oklahoma Coach Barry Switzer.
Then, he turned serious: "To play as poorly as we did and have so many turnovers, it's amazing that we could beat a team the caliber of Florida State."
It was Oklahoma's third straight victory in the Orange Bowl and second straight over the Seminoles. But the crowd of 71,043 saw a scintillating game this time, instead of the 24-7 rout the Oklahoma wishbone produced a year ago.
FSU was better prepared to defend against that attack this time, having spread its five defensive linemen wider to make its more difficult for the Sooners to get outside. The Seminoles also knocked Sooner fullback Stanley Wilton out of the game and momentarily hurt Watts, who shared the most valuable player award this time with FSU defensive end Jarvis Coursey.
Florida State took a 7-0 lead in the second quarter on Ricky Williams' 10-yard run after the second of Watt's three fumbles.
Keeling, who could have been the game's goat, kicked a 53-yard field goal -- 10 yards longer than his previous best and an Orange Bowl record -- cutting the FSU lead to 7-3 at halftime.
Oklahoma drove 78 yards, taking six minutes, for a 10-7 lead on David Overstreet's four-yard sweep after Watts had passed 30 yards to Valora, then ran for 21 to the Seminole five.
Capece, who also on missed field-goal tries from 41 to 44 yards, then kicked a 19-yarder to tie the game at 10.
Then came the drama.
Keeling, already described by Switzer as "inconsistent at best," awaited a snap from center with the ball at the Sooner 31 early in the fourth period. It sailed through his hands and into the end zone, where Butler recovered for a 17-10 lead after Capece's conversion.
"It was a good snap. I was paying attention too much to the rush and took my eye off of it," Keeling said. "It went right through my hands. It slowed down at the two (yard line) and I tried to kick it out of the end zone, but somebody hit me from behind."
Said Switzer, "I told Mike Keeling he certainly ought to go kiss every one of his teammates because they sure saved his butt."
And, as the clock ticked down to three minutes, FSU's lead seemed safe.
But Watts, who was sacked five times, spearheaded a brilliantly conceived nine-play drive in less than two minutes, throwing five times.
"I'm still waiting for them to run the ball," said a mystified Bowden.
"We had too far to go in too short a time to keep the ball on the ground," Switzer said. "It was a hell of a drive. We didn't think Rhodes could play (because of a pulled hamstring). But he went in a few plays in the first half and got loosened up, so he asked us at halftime to let him go all the way in the second half. We had to throw."
"But it suprised me how much," Rhodes said.