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Greatest point ever: Warrick Dunn's touchdown sets up Florida State Seminoles' championship berth

Warrick Dunn scores on a 79-yard touchdown catch-and-run that seals FSU’s win over Florida. One game later, FSU wins the national title.

Associated Press (1993)

Warrick Dunn scores on a 79-yard touchdown catch-and-run that seals FSU’s win over Florida. One game later, FSU wins the national title.

As an electrifying player at Florida State, running back Warrick Dunn played in five games against Florida. He compiled 862 total yards in those contests, the diminutive Louisianan proving 180 pounds of unstoppable energy.

But it was Dunn's 79-yard catch-and-run at Florida Field on Nov. 27, 1993 — his freshman season — that might have been the most precious yards of all.

The touchdown broke the Gators' back, silenced a roaring crowd and propelled the Seminoles to the national championship game.

It was, simply, Florida State's greatest point ever.

"I get asked about that play all the time," the 5-foot-9 Dunn says. "It's everybody's favorite play. It's kind of like the play that made me."

Stage was set

The Seminoles had survived a meeting with Miami that October and rebounded from an emotionally draining loss at Notre Dame two weeks before, positioning them for a shot at the national title against top-ranked Nebraska.

There was just one problem: They still had to go through Florida — at Gainesville. This always proved easier said than done as other Seminole seasons had been derailed by losses to the Gators. And there was this: Florida coach Steve Spurrier was 23-0 at home.

Still, the day began swimmingly for FSU. On a day the Seminoles gained 566 yards, they cruised to a 20-point lead that seemed safe once the fourth quarter arrived.

'Something bad'

Suddenly, bad things started happening, the sorts of things average teams don't overcome on the road. A pair of turnovers inside their 10 served up easy touchdowns for the Gators.

"I've seen too many teams that were as good or better that couldn't win here," coach Bobby Bowden said that day. "You say, 'Uh-oh. Something bad is fixin' to happen to Florida State.' "

And now his Seminoles faced another predicament, third and 10 from their 21 with a confident, fire-breathing Florida defense awaiting.

First and second down hadn't been fruitful. Charlie Ward saw passes batted down by linemen William Gaines and Kevin Carter, respectively. That only created a more charged atmosphere in a stadium full of 85,000 who loved to openly hate the Seminoles.

"You could feel the stadium shaking," Dunn says now, nearly 18 years later. "The momentum was starting to change.

"But after the play, you could hear a pin drop in that place."

How it went down

With the game seemingly slipping away, Ward dropped back to pass with just under six minutes remaining. The play, called "344 takeoff," didn't work to perfection.

The ball was to be delivered to receiver Kez McCorvey. After his two previous touchdown receptions, he was well covered.

Without his first option available, Ward was left trying to scan the field for another receiver, giving the defense time to break free of the offensive line. Enter Mark Campbell and Ellis Johnson, two Gators linemen who nearly grasped the elusive Ward. But the two-sport star and eventual NBA first-round pick side-stepped both defenders, rolling to his left.

It was a particularly awkward position for a right-handed quarterback looking to throw downfield, but Ward finally found Dunn open near the left sideline.

"You could see he felt pressure and prolonged the play," said Dunn, who went on to star with the Bucs and Falcons. "That's what great players do. They keep plays alive."

Ward eventually delivered the ball over the outstretched arms of linebacker Ed Robinson, much to Dunn's surprise.

"I never thought I was going to get the ball," he said. "But I had learned from earlier in the year to always be ready with Charlie. There were a couple times he threw me the ball when he wasn't even looking at me."

Dunn made the catch in stride and almost immediately got a timely block from receiver Tamarick Vanover that sprung him. Then Dunn's quickness took over as he rocketed down the sideline untouched.

Closing in, though, at an angle was safety Michael Gilmore. He dived at Dunn's feet near the Gators 20 and came up with air. Dunn jogged the rest of the way into the end zone, and the Seminoles' jubilation began.

The play covered 79 yards, but its importance could hardly be measured.

Satisfaction

Dunn readily admits he did not do the heavy lifting. Ward, perhaps, did the most. And Dunn quickly points out he had more impressive plays during his college career.

"I just ran an out route and outran a guy," he says. "I've had much harder plays."

But few had this sort of impact, partly because it came against FSU's greatest rival.

"I think it means that much more to do it on the road at Florida," Dunn says proudly.

The play just about clinched the Heisman Trophy for Ward if he hadn't already locked it up. Analyst Bob Griese told the ABC audience after the play, "Just mail the Heisman to Charlie Ward." The 33-21 win also sent FSU to the title game, where it beat Nebraska.

And most of all, the play provided an indelible memory to Seminole fans and Dunn himself.

"I still look back at it," said Dunn, now 36, "and I smile."

Send your memories of the play to sports@tampabay.com.

As an electrifying player at Florida State, running back Warrick Dunn played in five games against Florida. He compiled 862 total yards in those contests, the diminutive Louisianan proving 180 pounds of unstoppable energy.

But Dunn's 79-yard catch-and-run at Florida Field on Nov. 27, 1993, his freshman season, were his most precious yards of all.

The touchdown broke the Gators' back, silenced a roaring crowd and propelled the Seminoles to the national championship game.

It was, simply, Florida State's greatest point ever.

"I get asked about that play all the time," the 5-foot-9 Dunn says. "It's everybody's favorite play. It's kind of like the play that made me."

Stage was set

The Seminoles had survived a meeting with Miami on Oct. 9 and rebounded from an emotionally draining loss at Notre Dame on Nov. 13 to return to No. 1 in the nation, positioning themselves for a shot at the national title.

There was one problem: They still had to go through No. 7 Florida — at Gainesville. This always proved easier said than done as other Seminole seasons had been derailed by losses to the Gators. And there was this: Florida coach Steve Spurrier was 23-0 at the Swamp.

Still, the day began swimmingly for FSU. On a day the Seminoles gained 566 yards, they cruised to a 27-7 lead that seemed safe once the fourth quarter arrived.

'Something bad'

Suddenly, bad things started happening, the sort of things average teams don't overcome on the road. A pair of turnovers inside their 10 served up easy touchdowns for the Gators that trimmed the lead to 27-21 with 5:58 left.

"I've seen too many teams that were as good or better that couldn't win here," FSU coach Bobby Bowden said that day. "You say, 'Uh-oh. Something bad is fixin' to happen to Florida State.' "

On the ensuing possession, his Seminoles faced third and 10 from their 21 with a confident, fire-breathing defense awaiting.

First and second down hadn't been fruitful. Charlie Ward saw passes batted down by linemen William Gaines and Kevin Carter, respectively. That only created a more charged atmos­phere in a stadium full of 85,507 fans — which set a Gators school record — who loved to openly hate the Seminoles.

"You could feel the stadium shaking," Dunn says now, nearly 18 years later. "The momentum was starting to change.

"But after the play, you could hear a pin drop in that place."

How it went down

The play, called "344 takeoff," didn't work to perfection.

Ward dropped back to pass. The ball was to be delivered to receiver Kez McCorvey. After his two previous touchdown receptions, he was well covered.

Without his first option available, Ward scanned the field for another receiver, giving the defense time to break free of the offensive line. Enter Mark Campbell and Ellis Johnson, Gators linemen who nearly grasped the elusive Ward. But the two-sport star and eventual NBA first-round pick sidestepped both and rolled to his left.

It was an awkward position for a right-handed quarterback looking to throw downfield, but Ward finally found Dunn open near the left sideline.

"You could see he felt pressure and prolonged the play," said Dunn, who went on to star with the Bucs and Falcons. "That's what great players do. They keep plays alive."

Ward eventually delivered the ball over the outstretched arms of linebacker Ed Robinson, much to Dunn's surprise.

"I never thought I was going to get the ball," he said. "But I had learned from earlier in the year to always be ready with Charlie. There were a couple times he threw me the ball when he wasn't even looking at me."

Dunn made the catch in stride and almost immediately got a block from receiver Tamarick Vanover that sprung him. Then Dunn's quickness took over as he rocketed down the sideline.

Closing in at an angle was safety Michael Gilmore. He dived at Dunn's feet near the Gators 20 and came up with air.

Dunn jogged the rest of the way into the end zone to give the Seminoles a 33-21 lead — just 30 seconds after the Gators' second touchdown.

And the jubilation began.

The play covered 79 yards, but its importance could hardly be measured.

Satisfaction

Dunn readily admits he did not do the heavy lifting. Ward, perhaps, did the most. And Dunn quickly points out he had more impressive plays during his college career.

"I just ran an out route and outran a guy," he says. "I've had much harder plays."

But few had this sort of impact, partly because it came against FSU's greatest rival.

"I think it means that much more to do it on the road at Florida," Dunn says proudly.

If he hadn't already locked it up, the play just about clinched the Heisman Trophy for Ward.

"Just mail the Heisman to Charlie Ward," ABC analyst Bob Griese said afterward.

The 33-21 win sent FSU to the Orange Bowl, where it beat Nebraska 18-16 for its first national championship.

And most of all, the play provided an indelible memory for Seminole fans and Dunn himself.

"I still look back at it," said Dunn, now 36, "and I smile."

Send your memories of the play to sports@tampabay.com. Stephen F. Holder can be reached at sholder@sptimes.com.

.Fast facts

Holder's top five

Stephen F. Holder covered the Seminoles for three seasons for the Miami Herald. He ranks the five greatest scores in school history.

1. Warrick Dunn's 79-yard catch-and-run on third and 10 at Florida in 1993 sets up a berth in the national championship game.

2. Terrell Buckley's 40-yard interception return on Michigan's second play begins a 51-31 rout at the Big House in 1991, preserving FSU's No. 1 ranking.

3. Peter Warrick's 43-yard juggling catch caps the scoring in the January 2000 national championship win against Virginia Tech.

4. On fourth and goal from the 15 with 3:51 remaining, Danny McManus hits Ronald Lewis for the winning touchdown against Nebraska in the January 1988 Fiesta Bowl.

5. Rock Preston's 4-yard run versus Florida completes the comeback from a 31-3 deficit to a 31-31 tie in the "Choke at Doak" in 1994.

On the Web: Rank these five scores in the order of your preference in an interactive poll at tampabay.com/specials/2011/sports/greatest-point-ever.



Greatest point ever

The St. Petersburg Times is ranking the top scoring plays in the history of the area pro teams and college football programs.

Sunday: Bucs

Monday: Rays

Tuesday: Lightning

Wednesday: USF

Thursday: Florida

. Today: Florida State

On the Web

Follow the St. Petersburg Times' greatest point series, including previous stories, polls and video at tampabay.com/

specials/2011/sports/greatest-point-ever.

Greatest point ever: Warrick Dunn's touchdown sets up Florida State Seminoles' championship berth 07/14/11 [Last modified: Friday, July 15, 2011 12:04am]
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