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Florida State Seminoles never really planted the spear on this season

FSU’s EJ Manuel throws for just 65 yards and is sacked four times, but the Seminoles leave Gainesville with a road win.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

FSU’s EJ Manuel throws for just 65 yards and is sacked four times, but the Seminoles leave Gainesville with a road win.

GAINESVILLE

I n a game such as this, you cannot lose your focus.

So you keep one eye on the clock, and another on your assigned piece of turf. And when the moment is right, you sprint, you fall to one knee and you whip out your scissors.

This is how FSU punter Shawn Powell, a.k.a. the Sod Captain, found himself kneeling on the brightly painted F in the south end zone of Florida Field on Saturday night.

It was his job to bring back a piece of turf for FSU's sod cemetery, and he was halfway to getting a hunk of blue earth when he was accosted by UF security personnel.

Turns out, he picked the end zone closest to Florida's locker room.

Which is sort of how the UF-FSU game went Saturday night. It seemed like it should be majestic and momentous, but it was mostly a menagerie of mishaps.

Florida State won 21-7, and there was no doubt the Seminoles were the better team. But, in reality, they were just a little less inept than the Gators.

How else do you explain a team winning a game when its offense gained fewer yards than its defense? And it was by a pretty sizable (130 yards to 95) margin.

How else do you explain a quarterback completing less than 50 percent of his passes, getting sacked four times and throwing for 65 yards, and having a far better game than the quarterback on the other side of the field?

How else do you explain two programs with a combined five national championships in the past 20 years coming into a game without a pollster in sight?

Yeah, as conquests go, this was less impressive than most.

For the second year in a row, FSU is the state champ in a state that has lost its way.

"You're always measured by your rivals," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. "We feel very fortunate to get it done, and hopefully we can keep it going."

By night's end, the FSU band was playing and Powell was waving a gator head behind the Seminoles bench. But most of the crowd 90,798 had already fled and the rest did not seem particularly indignant.

"We beat Miami and we beat Florida, so we're state champions," FSU defensive tackle Everett Dawkins said. "That's what Coach is always saying, and so we did it."

For both of these teams, the story of the season had already been written. And in FSU's case, the plot was particularly painful.

Because there was a moment Saturday night when you probably wondered about the season that might have been at FSU.

A season in which Dustin Hopkins hits a 42-yard field goal in the final seconds against Virginia. A season with one more play against a Clemson or a Wake Forest.

A regular season that began with a No. 6 ranking and could have ended with more glory than any FSU team has seen in years.

That would have been the season you had visualized since January. A season worth the heartache of a messy coaching departure. That would have been a season to remember.

"We didn't do everything we wanted," Fisher said. "But we got a victory down here at Florida, which was nice after a disappointing loss to Virginia. Hopefully we'll learn from that, and it will propel us into the bowl game and next season."

And though you could shout that FSU lost three conference games by a total of 11 points, you might also point out Florida State faced only two ranked teams and lost to them both.

If that sounds harsh, then you do not have enough appreciation for what this rivalry used to be. It's not just that neither team came close to winning a conference title, or that neither won a single game against a ranked opponent.

There simply was not a lot of talent on the field.

This game has been as big a showcase for NFL talent as any in the nation in the last quarter century. Two years ago, it featured seven players taken in the first two rounds of the 2010 draft. There was a stretch, from 1997 to 2001, when 20 first-round draft choices played in this game. Even back in 1988, five first-round picks were on the field.

At this moment, it's a stretch to imagine even one player from either team being among the top picks in the 2012 draft.

Even so, it still meant something to the players on the field. So as the fans filed out, as the rest of the college football world turned away, Powell continued his quest to find a piece of turf to bring back to the sod cemetery in Tallahassee.

After being rebuffed in the south end zone, he settled for a less conspicuous piece of real estate.

"The guy started cussing at me, but he's a Gator fan so what do I care?" Powell said. "I was going to get the F, but he pushed me away so I went to the other side of the field and grabbed some."

Florida State Seminoles never really planted the spear on this season 11/26/11 [Last modified: Sunday, November 27, 2011 12:31am]
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