Florida State 27,
Virginia Tech 22
-- The week started strangely, with Florida State Coach Bobby Bowden calling Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer on Monday, asking him for advice on how to reverse the Seminoles' three-game losing streak as their teams prepared to play in Saturday night's inaugural ACC championship game.
Bowden's intentions were probably sincere, but after the Seminoles blasted the No. 5 Hokies, 27-22, in front of 72,749 at Alltel Stadium, Beamer might be wondering if he was the victim of another brilliant maneuver by college football's winningest coach.
Bowden spent much of the past week telling anyone who would listen how beat up and young his Seminoles were, and how the Hokies were overwhelming favorites to defend their ACC title. But then Florida State, which was playing without three starting offensive linemen and its best pass rusher and with a freshman quarterback leading a struggling offense, beat Virginia Tech for the 12th consecutive time, including seven victories against teams coached by Beamer.
"To win a conference championship, it's hard to believe," Bowden said. "Because of the circumstances, it makes it more meaningful. I told somebody today, 'Our team is in a tailspin. We haven't been in one of these in a while. We'll pull out of it.' I didn't know when, but I didn't expect it to be this ballgame."
The loss was painfully costly for the Hokies. Instead of claiming the ACC's automatic berth in the lucrative Bowl Championship Series, Virginia Tech (10-2) will probably return to Jacksonville to play Louisville in the Jan. 2 Gator Bowl. Florida State (8-4), which until Saturday night had endured another subpar season, losing at least four games for the third time in five years, will probably play Big Ten champion Penn State in the Jan. 3 Orange Bowl.
"The only thing I'm shocked about is how terrible we played," Hokies running back Cedric Humes said. "They went out and played a hell of a game. The whole season, I'm not going to say it went down the drain, but we worked so hard all year to win the ACC and now it's gone. It's going to take a while to get over this."
After playing to a 3-3 tie at intermission, Florida State exploded for 24 points in the third quarter to take a 27-3 lead. The Hokies rallied to score three touchdowns in the fourth quarter, with quarterback Marcus Vick throwing a 28-yard pass to Josh Morgan and Vick scoring on four- and one-yard runs, but when they failed to convert an onside kick with 1 minute 40 seconds left, their comeback hopes were over.
"It just proves that we're still Florida State," Seminoles center David Castillo said. "Before the game, everybody was counting us out. Virginia Tech was a two-touchdown favorite and nobody gave us a chance. Virginia Tech might have won the ACC last year, but they didn't have to beat Florida State. This is still our conference."
The Hokies' struggles were all too familiar for the thousands of Tech fans who made the long trek here. It was nearly a carbon copy of their performance in a 27-7 loss to Miami on Nov. 5, which knocked the Hokies out of the national championship race and nearly kept them from winning the ACC's Coastal Division. Virginia Tech was unable to run the ball (41 yards on 31 attempts), committed two turnovers and 17 penalties and couldn't protect Vick, who was sacked six times.
After gaining only 127 yards in the first half, Virginia Tech received the second-half kickoff, looking for some way to spark its sluggish offense. But Vick, who completed only 9 of 16 passes for 122 yards in the first half, continued to struggle in the pocket, throwing high over Justin Harper's head on third down.
So the Hokies were forced to punt from their 34. Florida State's Willie Reid caught Nic Schmitt's high punt near the right sideline, ran straight ahead and then broke to the middle of the field. Schmitt dove at Reid's feet near midfield but missed, and Reid ran into the end zone for an 83-yard touchdown. Gary Cismesia's extra point made it 10-3 with 13 minutes 46 seconds to play in the third quarter.
It was the first punt return for a touchdown allowed by the Hokies since Boston College's Jamal Burke had an 83-yarder in Virginia Tech's 28-23 victory on Oct. 10, 2002.
The Hokies imploded from there. On third and six from their 24 on the ensuing possession, Vick threw a 26-yard pass to David Clowney for a first down. But tackle Jimmy Martin was illegally downfield, so the play was nullified and the Hokies were penalized five yards. On the next play, Vick forced a pass into double coverage, and safety Pat Watkins outjumped Eddie Royal to intercept it at the Florida State 44.
On the Seminoles' next play, Weatherford threw a six-yard pass to wide receiver Fred Rouse, and linebacker James Anderson was penalized 15 yards for grabbing Rouse's face mask, giving Florida State a first down at the Tech 35. Weatherford threw a 21-yard pass to De'Cody Fagg on first down, and then tailback Leon Washington ran 14 yards for a touchdown on the next play. Cismesia's extra-point kick gave the Seminoles a 17-3 lead with 10:47 left in the third.