In the waning moments of Saturday's game, with the outcome no longer in question, the Florida State fans temporarily stopped their raucous cheering to serenade coach Bobby Bowden. "Happy birthday to you ..." Louder and louder as more in the Doak Campbell Stadium stands lent their voices. "Happy birthday dear coach Bowden ..." "That was good. I agree. I agree. It was a very happy birthday," said Bowden, who celebrated No. 79. But more than the vanilla cake with chocolate icing on his desk or the cake he was presented on the field, he savored his team's 41-27 win against Clemson — a team he had lost to three straight times and four of the previous five when his son Tommy was the coach and this annual showdown was the ballyhooed "Bowden Bowl."
And that the home crowd finally had something to sing about, well, that was pretty sweet, too.
For all of the Seminoles.
"It feels good; we're starting to get things turned around," FSU quarterback Christian Ponder said. "There's a lot of excitement going around this university and the fans are getting back into it. To be a part of something like this is pretty awesome."
The No. 24-ranked Seminoles (7-2, 4-2), who are now bowl eligible and still in contention to win the ACC's Atlantic Division and a berth in the league's championship game Dec. 6 at Raymond James Stadium (if Wake Forest loses again), impressively rebounded from a last-minute loss at Georgia Tech that could have devastated a young team.
FSU rolled up 266 yards on the ground, led by 94 from freshman tailback Jermaine Thomas and 57 from senior Antone Smith, who had two touchdowns, including a 41-yard burst around the left edge that sealed the win with 1:49 left.
Just as important, the Seminoles' defense, which looked out of step a week ago trying to slow down the triple option, then seemed just as flummoxed at the start against the Tigers (4-5, 2-4), rediscovered their ferocity.
The Seminoles had six sacks (three by defensive end Everette Brown), recovered a fumble and came up with a game-changing interception to help erase a 10-0 deficit.
With FSU down 10-3, defensive end Neefy Moffett read a screen, jumped up to deflect the pass at the line and reached back to grab it in midair for his first career interception. He gathered himself and returned it 18 yards for a touchdown that tied the score late in the opening quarter.
"We practice that all the time, the tip ball, just go up and get it and prepare to score," Moffett said. "That's what I did. … I always pick at the DBs for dropping interceptions and I dropped one in practice and they got on me real bad, so I couldn't let that happen again."
The Seminoles, up 20-17 at halftime, took command when Ponder hit receiver Corey Surrency with a 14-yard touchdown early and, following a Clemson field goal, those two hooked up again for a 38-yard play that led to Smith's 1-yard scoring run early in the final quarter.
The Tigers, now 1-2 under interim coach Dabo Swinney since he took over after Tommy Bowden resigned, answered with a 97-yard touchdown drive, but FSU's Taiwan Easterling easily recovered an onside kick and Smith scored his second touchdown a play later.
"Any time you come from behind and win, it's a good sign," Bowden said. "If you never get behind, you never find out what you're made our of. Our kids have proven over and over that they're going to fight, they're going to fight you 'til the end of the ballgame."
At the end of this one, in the locker room, they were able to do something else: Break into song.
"Happy birthday ..."
Brian Landman can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3347.