TALLAHASSEE, OCT. 3 -- It was very late in the third quarter, No. 4 Florida State was leading No. 3 Miami by the stunning score of 19-3, and the largest crowd ever assembled at Doak Campbell Stadium was beside itself. Florida State defensive back Deion Sanders told Miami wide receiver Michael Irvin: "Don't block me so hard, man, the game's over."
A few minutes after his conversation with Sanders, Irvin was on the sideline, where he furiously grabbed a set of headphones and called the coaching box. "Get me the ball!" he screamed at offensive coordinator Gary Stevens, "Get me the ball!"
For all those who thought it was over, final score today: Miami 26, Florida State 25.
Over the next 15 minutes or so, Miami (3-0) scored three times, twice on pass plays of 26 and 73 yards to Irvin, to take a 26-19 lead with 2:22 to go. The Hurricanes also scored on Steve Walsh's 49-yard pass to Melvin Bratton in the third period, converted on a pair of two-point conversion passes, and benefited from two fourth-quarter turnovers by Florida State (4-1) to pull out this scarcely believable game before 62,561.
But even when it was over, it wasn't over. Not in a game that was called an early season national championship, and not between two old rivals who had never met in a game with rankings and significance this high. It was regarded as the biggest intrastate game ever in the state of Florida, and the Seminoles ultimately made it one of the best to be seen anywhere all season. For they scored on Danny McManus' 18-yard touchdown pass to Ronald Lewis with 42 seconds left and came within a point of taking victory back again, before McManus' two-point pass to Pat Carter was knocked down by defensive back Bubba McDowell.
"I thought we had it won," a disbelieving Florida State Coach Bobby Bowden said. "I really couldn't tell you how we lost this one."
Easy. The Seminoles flat gave it away, the momentum swinging on McManus' fourth-quarter interception and fumble that led to Irvin's scores. Also on kicker Derek Schmidt, who missed field goals of 31 and 29 yards as well as an extra point, all of them potential margins of victory.
This was after three quarters in which the Hurricanes got plain killed by the Seminoles. In addition to the final drive, Florida State scored on Schmidt's 36-yard and 25-yard field goals, Dayne Williams' one-yard run in the second quarter and a blocked punt by Martin Mayhew that Alphonso Williams returned for a score in the third period. Schmidt missing the extra point.
The Seminoles won the game in every category but the scoreboard.
"You make your own luck," Miami Coach Jimmy Johnson said. "It doesn't matter if we're behind by three touchdowns or five, or ahead. We play with all we've got. It's the only way we know how."
But what the Seminoles did to this team that had twice played for the national championship in the last two years was shocking. They got 25 first downs to 11, gained 289 yards rushing to just 52, including 189 yards on 30 carries for sophomore Sammie Smith.
But Miami's comeback was startling in its quickness, and not untypical of a ruthless, arrogant team that last week beat then-10th-ranked Arkansas, 51-7. The scoring plays themselves added up to 148 yards, and the Seminoles' margin shrank almost instantly as Walsh, an able heir to Vinny Testaverde, went to work.
"It seemed like a lot of points," Walsh said. "But then the defense gave us some great opportunities, and I said, well, this is it."
First, Walsh completed a short pass over the middle to Bratton, who broke it open for a 49-yard score with 57 seconds left in the third period. A two-point pass to Brian Blades made it 19-11.
Next series, McManus gave up what he called a "pitiful" interception on a screen to defensive end Dan Stubbs that led to Irvin's 26-yard touchdown with 11:39 to go. "I told the defense, just get the ball back and I swear I'll score," Irvin said.
Walsh passed to Wayne Williams for the two points and a 19-19 tally.
Then came Schmidt's missed 31-yarder, to gasps.
But Miami punted the next series, and all still looked well for Florida State as McManus led what seemed a sure scoring drive to the Miami 17. Then on second and one, he fumbled the snap. "Miscommunication," he said. Benny Blades came up with it on the 11, and the Hurricanes scored three plays later.
From his 27, Walsh heaved the ball to Irvin on the right sideline. Irvin ran right under the ball and streaked all the way.
To McManus' credit that he had one more touchdown drive left in him, 83 yards in eight plays, and he hit Lewis in the left corner by the Miami band.
"We should've won," McManus said. "A tie wouldn't have done anything for us."
But following the touchdown, Bowden had debated long and hard on whether to kick an extra point and settle for a tie. In 1980 the Seminoles had lost, 10-9, to Miami, and Bowden swore he would take a tie next time. But there was Schmidt to think about.
Bowden sent Schmidt on the field, then pulled him off. McManus then looked for Carter on a flare to the corner of the end zone, but badly underthrew him, afraid of sending the ball out of the end zone, he said. McDowell knocked it down, and Miami's national title hopes survived.
"I said if they missed the two-pointer I would live in church tomorrow," Irvin said. "I'll be in church."
Miami (Fla.) 3 0 8 15 26 Florida St. 0 10 9 6 25
M -- FG Cox 29
FS -- D. Williams 1 run (Schmidt kick)
FS -- FG Schmidt 36
FS -- A. Williams 5 blocked punt (kick failed)
FS -- FG Schmidt 25
M -- Bratton 49 pass from Walsh (Br. Blades pass from Walsh)
M -- Irvin 26 pass from Walsh (W. Williams pass from Walsh)
M -- Irvin 73 pass from Walsh (Cox kick)
FS -- Lewis 18 pass from McManus (pass failed)
A -- 62,561.
Miami Florida St. First downs 11 25 Rushes-yards 24-52 60-225 Passing yards 254 201 Return yards 9 75 Passing 13-29-0 16-24-1 Punts-average 6-31 2-38 Fumbles-lost 0-0 1-1 Penalties-yards 4-36 3-26 Time
RUSHING -- Miami: W. Williams 14-48, Bratton 6-21, Walsh 4-minus 17. Florida St.: S. Smith 30-189, Bennett
PASSING -- Miami: Walsh 13-29-0, 254 yards. Florida St.: McManus 16-24-1, 201.
RECEIVING -- Miami: Irvin 4-132, Br. Blades 3-42, Henry 3-24, Bratton 2-48, W. Williams 1-8. Florida St.: P