COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Long after the moment had passed, Florida State safety Nick Moody still felt badly about a ball he knew he should have intercepted in Saturday night's crucial ACC game against Maryland.
But no one else would remember that one.
Folks will only see Moody, a redshirt sophomore, making his first career interception and returning it 96 yards for a touchdown with 36 seconds left to stop a last-minute Terrapins drive and seal a 30-16 victory at Byrd Stadium.
"I guess I kind of redeemed myself for the dropped pick," said Moody, who had a career-high 13 tackles. "I was kind of mad about that. But I guess I redeemed myself in a big way. It felt good."
The Seminoles (8-3, 6-2) can lay claim to the Atlantic Division and reach the league finale for the first time since 2005 if the Terrapins (7-4, 4-3) rebound next week and beat North Carolina State (8-3, 5-2). If N.C. State wins, it would earn the spot in the Dec. 4 ACC finale by virtue of its victory against FSU last month.
But as it is, FSU, which has played four straight games that have gone down to the wire and has won the past two, is re-establishing its relevance in the league it once dominated — it hadn't won more than five league games since 2004.
"At least, you're co-champion (of the division)," coach Jimbo Fisher said. "We did what we could do. We had a chance to be 8-0. We didn't get it, but six wins is where we wanted to go. It's a step in the right direction.
"Those seniors can at least say they were co-champions of this division."
The Seminoles now can re-establish their relevance in the state if they snap a six-game skid against Florida on Saturday in Tallahassee, but Fisher said his team will have to play much better than it did on this night.
Redshirt senior quarterback Christian Ponder returned after missing the last game with a right elbow injury and was okay but not stellar. He completed 16 of 26 passes for 170 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
The touchdown, a 44-yarder to redshirt junior Bert Reed, was huge. Maryland had just regained the lead, 16-13, late in the third quarter on Travis Baltz's third field goal when Reed got free down the middle, made three players miss and raced in for the go-ahead score.
"He had a rough first half, but that shows a lot of character; he battled back," Fisher said. "That's what we need out of Bert. We need those kind of plays out him."
Still, the game was in doubt until Moody's interception, the last of four takeaways against a team that had protected the ball well all season; Maryland entered the game with just eight turnovers.
"That was a phenomenal play," said Fisher, who actually wanted Moody to go down so the Seminoles could run out the clock. "Our defense did a great job in the second half."
As for Maryland?
"The bottom line is when you turn the ball over, you're going to lose," Terrapins coach Ralph Friedgen said. "We made a lot of mistakes, but we're getting better. We're going to beat one of these teams pretty soon."
Brian Landman can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3347.