TALLAHASSEE — Chris Thompson ran through the Wake Forest defense with abandon Saturday, scoring on runs of 74 and 80 yards in No. 5 Florida State's 52-0 victory.
Just under a year ago, it wasn't clear whether Thompson would be able to run at all.
Thompson, a 5-foot-8 senior, broke two vertebrae in his back last year against the Demon Deacons.
But all the months of recovery and rehabilitation paid off Saturday. He sped down the FSU sideline twice in a span of 3 minutes, 10 seconds, sparking the Seminoles (3-0, 1-0 in ACC) to a dominating victory.
"It was emotional. When Coach (Jimbo) Fisher first started talking to me, I almost burst out in tears," Thompson said of earning a game ball after rushing for a career-best 197 yards on nine carries, all in the first half. "I was just holding it back. It meant a lot to me, and it meant a lot to all my teammates. I just wanted to do whatever I needed to do for us to be successful."
As Fisher saw Thompson running back from the end zone, he thought back to that hospital room and remembered his positivity and confidence that he'd be back on a football field again.
"Sitting up there in the hospital, he was actually consoling me," Fisher said. "I was talking to him in the bed, that everything was going to be all right. We didn't know what his future was. 'Coach, I'll be back.' It's amazing. It can't happen to a better young man, and I'm very proud of him today."
FSU's defense never let up, holding Wake Forest (2-1, 1-1) to 126 total yards and a 1-for-16 day on third downs. The Seminoles have outscored their opponents 176-3; the last time FSU didn't give up a touchdown in three consecutive games was 1964, when the receivers coach was a young assistant named Bobby Bowden.
"It's satisfactory, but you can't be complacent," defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan said. "You never want to be too satisfied. Even though the scoreboard said what it did, we still have so much room left for improvement."
After opening with two Division I-AA opponents, FSU had a chance to validate its No. 5 ranking against a Wake Forest team that beat the Seminoles last year in Winston-Salem. FSU scored four touchdowns in 10 minutes, starting with EJ Manuel's 16-yard run and Rashad Greene's 60-yard punt return, then Thompson's two touchdowns. Plant's James Wilder Jr. rushed 16 times for 94 yards, and Manuel added touchdown passes in the final minute of the second and third quarters, before getting the fourth off. Backup Debrale Smiley rushed for a final score to hand Wake Forest its most lopsided loss since the Seminoles won 72-13 in 1995.
The win was most special in seeing Thompson back to his old ways, getting his best day as a Seminole after his worst scare last season.
"We didn't know what was going to happen to Chris (last year)," said Manuel, who finished 15-of-24 for 176 yards and three total touchdowns. "I'm extremely happy for him. Chris is a great guy, a great young man. Today was his day."
FSU has a much tougher challenge next weekend, as No. 11 Clemson comes to Tallahassee having beaten the Seminoles five times in the past seven meetings, including last year.
"To see (Thompson) come back from that injury is pretty special," Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe said. "I wish he'd waited 'til Clemson to have a big day, but it's good to see him back."