Florida State senior defensive end Markus White had a pretty understandable reaction to his team's last-minute loss at North Carolina State.
In the hours after the 28-24 defeat on Oct. 28 in Raleigh, both on the plane ride home and in bed, he mulled over certain plays. Again and again he imagined what he could have done differently and how that could have changed both the outcome and the Seminoles' prospects for the final month of the regular season.
"But in all honesty, after that night, I didn't watch the film," he said. "I wanted to get over it and immediately get onto the next one."
The next one for the 24th-ranked Seminoles (6-2, 4-1 ACC) is today against visiting North Carolina (5-3, 2-2), a team whose fortunes have been compromised by the fallout of an agent scandal and a possible academic misconduct case. Three top players haven't played at all, while 10 others have missed some games.
FSU, which once made winning the ACC title seem preordained but hasn't played for the championship since 2005, not only must bounce back today, it also needs help before it can book a trip to Charlotte, N.C., on Dec. 4 for the league finale.
N.C. State and Maryland also have one league loss and, in the event of a two-team tie atop the Atlantic Division, the first tiebreaker is head-to-head, which N.C. State owns over the 'Noles.
"Obviously we're going to have to hope that N.C. State messes up at some point, but we're not worried about that," said senior quarterback Christian Ponder, who lost a fumble on second and goal from the Wolfpack 4 with 48 seconds left as FSU was driving for the potential winning touchdown. "We have to control what we can control."
That begins with winning today. No offense to Carolina, but that looms as perhaps more of mental challenge than a physical one. The Seminoles have to forget about the immediate past, not just say they have, and focus solely on the present or risk having those haunting memories create new ones that will keep them up at night. That's not easy.
"The games I remember the most," coach Jimbo Fisher said, "are the games I lost."
He hasn't forgotten a loss to rival Concord during his sophomore season at Salem in 1985. In the final moments, he saw no one open and took off running for the end zone from the 12-yard line.
"I can remember it to this day," he said. "I laid out, got hit in the ribs and tried to put the ball on the pylon."
But he got knocked out of bounds just short. Ball game. He and his teammates recovered the next week, rallying against Fairmont State to win the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference for the second straight year.
"We deal with failure and have to fix failure, and we never want it to happen again," he said. "We never want to feel those feelings again."
Many of his current Seminoles, for better or worse, have been in that position before. In 2008, they drove the length of the field and seemed poised to beat Georgia Tech only to fumble the ball at the goal line and lose 31-28. In last season's opener against Miami, the Seminoles again marched to the 2, but the game ended 38-34 on a dropped ball in the end zone.
"Anytime you have a loss, it's like a redemption thing the next game," said junior linebacker Nigel Bradham, who spent the day after the N.C. State loss trying his best not to think about football at all.
"You want to show everybody what you really are, and you aren't what you showed in the last game."
White added that it's actually a bit easier to be more intense, more dialed in, after a tough loss than it is when your team is on a roll.
"You never turn it off in practice," he said. "If you win four or five games in a row, you can think: 'Oh, I want to be fresh on Saturday. I'm holding back.' But when you lose, it's all about the next game."
Ponder, who took responsibility for the N.C. State loss, said that Thursday and even Friday of last week were "not fun" as he sequestered himself in his house replaying "a ton of plays," and not just his last one, and finding some comfort from messages on Facebook. But he couldn't wait to hit the practice field and move forward.
"Kids are more resilient than the grown-ups, coaches and fans sometimes," Fisher said. "The youth in them sometimes lets them rebound and do things. I think they'll respond well and compete very well in the football game."
Brian Landman can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3347. Follow his coverage at seminoles.tampabay.com.