Talk about a perfect ending to an imperfect season. Any time someone says something to Peter Warrick about discounted clothing, he can smile and flash his national championship Sugar Bowl ring. His transgressions might have cost him a Heisman Trophy, but the bronze trophy became an incidental piece of hardware that in some ways pales in comparison to dominating a national championship game. Two touchdown receptions, a punt return for a touchdown and a two-point conversion reception gave Warrick 20 points and Florida State a victory, a perfect season and an undisputed No. 1 ranking.
For a few minutes early in the fourth quarter, it appeared Florida State, like the rest of us, would spend Tuesday night watching in awe the wondrous Michael Vick. But the Seminoles have their own string of all-Americans and future pros, beginning with Warrick. And in the end, Vick was no match for all of them, and certainly not for Warrick.
Chris Weinke is nowhere near the talent Vick is, but Weinke knows enough to look for Warrick deep when possible. Vick, meantime, had to play the second half without his best running back and possession receiver--both suffered injuries during the game--and had no downfield passing attack to speak of. And he had to do it against a Florida State defense that was throwing a blitz party on virtually every snap. Vick still managed to take Virginia Tech from down 28-7 to up 29-28 early in the fourth quarter with an electrifying, foot-stomping performance. "Boy, is he something," FSU Coach Bobby Bowden said. "Better than I thought. I knew he was good, but not that darn good."
But before Vick got going in this game there was Warrick. And after Vick's run of dominance stopped early in the fourth, there was Warrick again. He had the first and last words here in the Superdome. No doubt, the Seminoles were reeling from Virginia Tech's comeback. The FSU sideline was silent and still after Virginia Tech ran off 22 unanswered points to take a 29-28 lead. But Warrick brings all the noise Florida State needs. He caught six passes for 163 yards. He returned the punt that gave the Seminoles some breathing room at 28-7. And he caught the touchdown pass that put the game away, 46-29, in the fourth quarter.
Still, it might have been different had Virginia Tech not started the game so jittery. Nothing cripples a competitor like stage fright. The Virginia Tech players could barely stand up at times early in the game. Passes sailed over open receivers, balls trickled off fingertips. A punt that should have been downed inside the 5 crawled into the end zone. A trick play that should have gone for a touchdown turned into disaster. The Hokies weren't ready for prime time in the Sugar Bowl, just as Florida State suspected and suggested. And the calm, experienced, big-game-tested Seminoles were there to scoop up all the mistakes and turn them into victory.
Tech never stopped playing at 100 mph, though, which is why the Hokies were able to bolt back into the game in the second half after trailing 28-7. Still, the shaky start is what Tech could ill afford. And the Hokies might have expended too much energy coming back to finish strongly, which is why the first couple of series were so critical, in retrospect.
What the Hokies needed to calm themselves was a steady, efficient, productive opening series to start the game. They didn't need to score, necessarily--just move the ball, pick up a couple or three first downs, get the feel of the game, make the Seminoles take possession deep in their territory.
What they got was a dazzling 77-yard drive that caused a mighty commotion, followed by the kind of mistake that brought to the surface all the nervousness young athletes often experience the first time they are confronted with an affair of such magnitude.
That's why it was so essential for Tech to start the game without drama. And it appeared they would do that. Michael Vick ran, Michael Vick passed, the offensive line dominated, and right off the bat the Hokies were in position for a chip-shot field goal attempt or within inches of first and goal at the 3. It was as if the Hokies were running summer drills against the second team in the August heat of Blacksburg.
You won't read any criticism here of Frank Beamer's decision to go for the first down on fourth and inches. The way his players were tearing downfield, why not go for it? How great would it be for his team, a heavy underdog, to come out and slap a seven-spot on the arrogant Seminoles to start the game?
My problem is with the play Tech called. The offensive line had been blowing the FSU defensive line off the ball every play. So instead of simply handing the ball to Shyrone Stith for a sure-thing off-tackle run, or telling Vick to power ahead for first and goal, Tech called what appeared to be an option run instead of a quick-hitter.
Vick turned one way, then the other, got stripped, and Florida State recovered the ball in the end zone for a touchback.
Ten plays, 5 1/2 minutes of ball control, and Virginia Tech had absolutely nothing to show for it except long, sad faces.
The second possession for the Hokies was nearly the same deal. The Hokies zipped all the way to the FSU 29, but a stuffed running play, a dropped pass and a sack took Tech out of reasonable field goal range.
Instead of a 10-0 lead, the Hokies still had nothing. And that's not a good thing when the other team has the fabulous Peter Warrick.
It's like Warrick was just lying in the weeds, waiting for a chance to spring. Three plays later, he did, taking a pass 64 yards for a touchdown and 7-0. A blocked punt made it 14-0.
With 3 minutes 30 seconds left in the first quarter, Florida State didn't have a first down.
A grand total of 46 seconds later, Florida State led 14-0. The Seminoles had run only seven plays, three of which resulted in incompletions.
Suddenly, Tech looked like a 10-year-old kid who is 10 notes into his first piano recital. Talk about nervous. Twice in the first quarter, Hokie ballcarriers ran into their own linemen, turning big gainers into big blunders. An option-pitchout run by Stith should have gone for a touchdown, except Stith was slowed up considerably when he ran into left guard Matt Lehr and was caught after a 26-yard gain. And that cost the Hokies dearly, too, because of Vick's fourth-down fumble later in the series.
And Warrick's 59-yard punt return only made the Hokies more frantic. Warrick is a marvel. He's the Deion of offense.
A Tech cornerback, having watched a teammate get burned deep for a touchdown early, gave Warrick a 20-yard cushion on one snap. Warrick is as polished as any college football player since Desmond Howard in the early '90s.
And because FSU has him, the school has its second national championship in the last seven years. "The first one was a load off my shoulders," Bowden said. "This one, I can sit back and enjoy."