TALLAHASSEE — With their fans chanting as loudly as they had in years, Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher and quarterback Christian Ponder shared the quietest of moments.
They hugged, their eyes welled up and despite the din of a sellout crowd at Doak Campbell Stadium, they told each other how special the ride has been, culminating with Saturday's 31-7 win against Florida.
"Obviously, Coach Fisher has helped me out a lot," Ponder said. "He developed me as a quarterback. He's done an unbelievable job in his first year as a head coach. And for us to beat Florida, that moment is definitely special."
"I said I loved coaching him," Fisher said. "And I was so happy for him because he can be cemented now as one of the great Florida State quarterbacks of all time … (for bringing) Florida State back to national prominence."
Hyperbole? Well, consider all what happened.
With Ponder playing like so many expected he would the entire season and might have were it not for injuries and inconsistent play around him, the No. 22 Seminoles (9-3) ended a six-game losing streak to Florida dating to 2003. Coupled with their win in October at Miami, the Seminoles claimed the mythical state title — another annual goal — for the first time since their 1999 national championship season.
Then as fireworks boomed overhead and FSU players took turns triumphantly holding a gator head over their heads as they raced around the rocking stadium, the replay board was turned to Maryland's win against North Carolina State.
That result meant the Seminoles would represent the Atlantic Division in the ACC title game Saturday in Charlotte, N.C., against Coastal Division champ and No. 13 Virginia Tech. The Seminoles, who for years made winning the ACC seem routine, last reached the league finale in 2005, upsetting the Hokies in the inaugural game
"Words can't really explain how you feel right now," said junior linebacker Nigel Bradham, who carried the gator head to midfield in the frenetic celebration. "A lot of things happened at once. I'm just overwhelmed with all the emotions."
Funny. But the Gators (7-5), who hadn't lost as many regular-season games since 1988, could relate to that overwhelmed feeling. For a change against the Seminoles.
After taking a 7-3 lead early in the opening quarter, they couldn't do much of anything right. Not on offense with Urban Meyer, who had never lost more than four games in any of his 10 seasons as a coach, rotating quarterbacks. Not on defense. Not on special teams.
In the first half alone, the Gators lost two fumbles, the second setting up a 9-yard touchdown run by Lonnie Pryor for a 10-7 FSU lead. Then early in the second quarter, Meyer elected to fake a punt on fourth and 5 from his 36, and FSU stopped it.
On the next play, Ponder hooked up with sophomore Rodney Smith, who was running free down the right sideline, for a 39-yard touchdown and a 17-7 lead.
Ponder, his right elbow still wrapped from an injury that affected him during the second half of the season, then threw a 15-yard touchdown to redshirt junior Taiwan Easterling for a 24-7 lead.
"That guy is as good as I've had," Fisher said. "When people function around him, he's as good as there is in this country."
FSU junior cornerback Michael Harris stopped a Gator drive in the final minute of the half by intercepting a John Brantley pass at the 7-yard line, the third of four turnovers in the game — matching a season high. The Gators also had a season-low 64 yards passing and 11 penalties for 79 yards, both of which matched season highs.
"(We were) just really ineffective in certain areas," Meyer said, "really, really ineffective."
With a few minutes left, the chants of "Hey-hey, good-bye" reverberated.
"Finally beating the Gators, beating Miami in the same year, and going to the ACC Championship Game," Ponder said, "I don't know what's a better feeling."
Brian Landman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3347.