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Streaks take a beating

Long after North Carolina State ended a celebration complete with chest-bumping, hugging and crying, Florida State senior cornerback Abdual Howard remained in disbelief.

"I still don't believe it; it still feels unreal to me," he said. "It feels like a joke."

Rest assured, neither he nor his teammates were in a laughing mood after the Wolfpack's 34-28 upset of the No. 10 Seminoles on Saturday afternoon before 82,425 at Doak Campbell Stadium.

The Seminoles (6-3, 5-2) can't extend their streaks of 10-win seasons and Top 5 finishes to 15 years. They hadn't lost three games in a season since they were 7-4-1 in 1986, and they still have a trip to Florida Saturday and a visit from Georgia Tech on Dec. 1.

The Seminoles also might not be able to win a 10th straight Atlantic Coast Conference title. It's one thing to accept not reaching the national championship game, something the Seminoles have done four of the past five years; it's entirely different to imagine a trip to the Gator or Peach bowl as an ACC also-ran.

"I'm embarrassed to say I was a part of the team that lost (the streaks)," Howard said solemnly. "I'm not embarrassed of my teammates. I love my teammates. We all played hard. But I never wanted to be a part of the team that broke all the winning streaks. The situation turns. You're not going to be the best team forever."

Former FSU assistant Chuck Amato and his Wolfpack (6-3, 4-3) saw to that.

The Wolfpack, the only league team to beat FSU twice and the only one to win at Doak Campbell, unveiled an offense that featured multiple player shifts. The players moved so much before the snap that they seemed like antsy youngsters in church, and the strategy left the FSU defense without a prayer. N.C. State amassed 463 yards, matching the season high FSU allowed last week at Clemson.

"We had a game plan: scatter them, running around before we got set," said sophomore quarterback Philip Rivers, who was 26-for-33 for 245 yards. "Then we did what we always do, the little short dinks all the way down the field. I think it frustrated them."

The Wolfpack scored 17 points in the second quarter to take a 24-14 halftime lead.

In FSU's first 39 home games against ACC foes, all wins, only three times did it allow as many as 24 points in a game: 24 to Virginia in 1996, 35 to N.C. State in 1997 and 35 to Georgia Tech in 1999.

"Our defense surprised me. It couldn't stop them," FSU coach Bobby Bowden said.

Late in the fourth quarter, redshirt freshman quarterback Chris Rix somersaulted into the end zone for a 3-yard touchdown run that cut the lead to 31-28 with 10:05 left. But Rivers followed with a 17-play, 71-yard drive that consumed 7:43 and culminated with Adam Kiker's 32-yard field goal.

"We had good field position; we had them back up (at the 15) and they took it and went all the way," Bowden said. "They ate up an hour and half. The clock said seven minutes, but it was an hour and half at least."

Still, Rix and the offense had one chance to salvage the game and their cherished streaks.

Relying on short passes against a defense determined not to give up anything deep again (Rix hit Javon Walker for a 63-yard score and Talman Gardner for 33- and 22-yarders), Rix methodically moved the Seminoles downfield.

He completed 8 of 12 passes for 57 yards, ran 7 yards on a draw to give FSU a first down at the Wolfpack 14 and spiked the ball to stop the clock with seven seconds left. He looked for receiver B.J. Ward in the end zone, but freshman cornerback Lamont Reid cut in front of Ward and apparently blocked out the ball.

It hit Ward in the chest and fell incomplete with three seconds to go.

"When we broke the huddle, Atrews (Bell) said, "Look for me,' " Rix said. "He and Talman were running vertical routes. I just tried to put it up there and give them both a chance of making a play."

Just as he released the ball, defensive end Terrance Chapman leveled Rix, who didn't see his pass sail over Bell's head.

A leaping Gardner seemingly had a shot in the back of the end zone. The ball hit his outstretched hands, but senior cornerback Brian Williams, who wasn't supposed to play and didn't start after a hip injury last week, batted it away.

"There is no way you can fathom something like this," said Amato, in tears after the game. "To beat a man like Bobby; that was the first homecoming game he has lost since he has been here. We talked about being the David and Goliath and all that stuff and being believers and doing the things that nobody in America thought we could do."

And they did.

No joke.