Instead of squatting on the field with his hands on his helmet, suffering a loss in stunned silence as he had just days earlier, Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder wheeled around and raised his arms in triumph.
And then he exhaled.
So did the rest of the Seminoles.
They needed to score a pair of touchdowns in the final minute, one by tailback Ty Jones and one on a fumble return by Kevin McNeil, to avoid an embarrassing upset by Division I-AA Jacksonville State, pulling out a 19-9 win on a rainy Saturday night at Doak Campbell Stadium.
"The frustration had built up that whole game and to finally punch it in was a relief," said Ponder of Jones' 1-yard run that put the Seminoles ahead for the first time. "Just a big sigh. I mean, good god."
The Seminoles (1-1), who lost five days earlier to ACC rival Miami 38-34, looked lackluster for much of the game and committed countless mistakes.
- They lost three of five fumbles, including one at the Jacksonville State 4 in the third quarter and one at the Jacksonville State 32 early in the fourth quarter.
- They were stopped on a fourth and 1 at the Jacksonville State 35.
- They missed a field goal and two extra points.
- They ran into the punter once to give the ball back to the Gamecocks.
"I've never played a ball game in my life, never, where so many things went wrong," Florida State coach Bobby Bowden said. "Never."
The Gamecocks (0-2), who lost at Georgia Tech 37-17 last week and hadn't beaten a I-A team since Arkansas State in 2001, seemed poised to pull off perhaps the biggest win in school history.
Quarterback Ryan Perrilloux, a transfer from LSU, threw a 28-yard touchdown pass in the opening minutes and led his team to a field goal midway through the second quarter for a 9-7 lead.
But facing a third and 4 from his 13, he was sacked by senior linebacker Dekoda Watson to force a punt. Then Ponder hit 5 of 6 passes for 53 yards, including a 24-yard strike to senior receiver Richard Goodman that put the ball inside the 1.
"Basically, my coaches and teammates got what they have been waiting on for four years," said Goodman.
"I know Rich is going to make a play," said Ponder, who threw for a career-high 324 yards. "During the game, he told me he was going to win the game for us."
After Ponder was stopped on a sneak, Jones, a sophomore from Middleton High in his first start, scored his second touchdown of the game for a 13-9 lead with 35 seconds left.
"I was ready," Jones said. "I knew my team needed it. I couldn't let my team down."
Jacksonville State fielded a squibbed kick at its 43, giving Perrilloux prime position for a possible winning drive. But he was hit on the first play, sending the ball into the air. Defensive end Kevin McNeil, who also blocked a field goal, gathered it in and returned it 33 yards for the clinching touchdown.
Said Bowden: "I feel very lucky to win that darn football game ... I told them the one thing they didn't do was quit. I told them, If ya'll had quit one down, we'd have lost the game. But the kids never quit."