One of college football's classic settings, Auburn's Jordan-Hare Stadium vibrated from top to bottom and all around Saturday night. Auburn fans and players, poised for a chance at redemption after three years of frustration against Florida State, made this an unlikely place for an FSU upset.
And they got their revenge, battling back from a 17-7 halftime deficit to defeat FSU 20-17 in front of 85,214 delirious fans. Jim Von Wyl kicked the winning 39-yard field goal with two seconds left for the victory.
It was a bitter loss for FSU, which played beautifully for most of the night. But key penalties and ultimately a Bobby Bowden trick play hurt the Seminoles.
Stacy Danley's 2-yard touchdown run had tied it with 3:47 left in the game. The Seminoles took over, and quickly moved down the field with Casey Weldon hitting Lawrence Dawsey for 9 yards and Dave Roberts for 21. But on third-and-3 from the Auburn 35, Weldon avoided a sack, ran for what looked like a first down, then fumbled.
He recovered, but that left FSU with fourth-and-5 at Auburn's
37. Weldon dropped back and scrambled and was finally sacked by linebacker Ricky Sutton for a 23-yard loss, setting up Auburn's winning field goal drive.
To get there, Auburn quarterback Stan White had to complete a 20-yard pass to Herbert Casey on fourth-and-8 at the FSU 39. The much-maligned FSU defense, which performed admirably under the circumstances, came up one play short.
Both teams knew the stakes before the game began. A defeat knocked the loser out of the national championship race.
The national championship was hardly a topic of conversation in Tallahassee last week. Survival was FSU's concern after Miami exploited the defense for more than 300 yards rushing two weeks ago.
And with several key defensive players injured, the Seminoles seemed to have little hope.
But they stayed in the game with a couple of makeshift defensive lines that defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews shuffled in and out of the game.
The Tigers' only score in the first half _ a 5-yard run by fullback Tony Richardson _ was set up by a Terrell Buckley fumble on a punt return. Auburn had to go only 46 yards for its touchdown.
FSU's offense sputtered, but it didn't take Bowden long to look for relief. Weldon replaced Brad Johnson for FSU's fourth series, and promptly led the Seminoles to 17 straight points.
Richie Andrews kicked a 22-yard field goal, fullback Edgar Bennett ran 1 yard for a score and Weldon connected with tailback Amp Lee on a 48-yard screen pass for a touchdown. FSU led 17-7 at halftime.
The Tigers cut it to 17-10 with 1:25 left in the third quarter on a 37-yard Von Wyl field goal. After that, the Seminoles moved into Auburn territory for the first time in the second half, but Andrews missed a 50-yard field goal attempt.
On Auburn's next two possessions, the Seminoles got big breaks. Carl Simpson recovered a James Joseph fumble at the FSU. And on the next series, safety John Davis intercepted Stan White's flea-flicker pass.
But both times, the Seminoles could not put Auburn away. Finally, a fumble on a Bowden trick play _ Weldon placed the football on the ground on a "fumblerooskie" and it was recovered by Auburn's Walter Tate _ led to a touchdown.
Nine plays and 57 yards later, Stacy Danley dove 2 yards for the touchdown with 3:47 left. Von Wyl kicked the tying extra point and the score was 17-17.
In the first half, the Seminoles got the first break of the game when, after a John Wimberly punt, the Tigers were called for an illegal substitution. That's a 15-yard penalty, and it gave FSU a first down at midfield.
But on the next play, FSU returned the favor. Quarterback Brad Johnson's pass intended for Lawrence Dawsey was intercepted by Darrel Crawford.
Yet FSU's maligned defense was holding its ground. It forced Auburn punts after the first three possessions.
And it looked like FSU was going to get excellent field position after the third one _ until Buckley made a rare mistake. He fumbled the punt and Auburn's Al Nash recovered at the FSU 46, leading to Richardson's touchdown.
Weldon came in the game after FSU cornerback Errol McCorvey intercepted Auburn's Stan White and ran it 12 yards to FSU's 47. After an illegal procedure penalty, Weldon hit fullback Edgar Bennett with a 21-yard pass for a first down, FSU's first since the penalty. Two nice runs by Amp Lee got FSU another first down at the 22.
And faced with third-and-6, Weldon scrambled for 8 yards for first-and-goal at the 10. But after Shannon Baker ran 5 yards on a reverse, Weldon threw two incomplete passes in the end zone.
Andrews came in and kicked a 22-yard field goal and Auburn led 7-3.