TALLAHASSEE — As Syracuse defensive end Alton Robinson drove Florida State quarterback James Blackman into the ground, drawing a roughing the passer penalty, there was one Seminoles player who ran faster than the others to defend his teammate.
Granted, FSU running back Cam Akers played like the fastest player on the field throughout Saturday's game.
But Akers quickly stood beside his fallen teammate and delivered a slight stiff arm to Robinson, who was standing over Blackman. On the next play midway through the second quarter, Akers then dished out some payback of his own.
Akers took a handoff from Blackman 63 yards for his second of two lengthy touchdowns and Florida State withstood a late rally by Syracuse to escape with a morale-boosting 27-24 win in front of an announced crowd of 71,805 at Doak Campbell Stadium.
"Our kids overcame enough, came out and won, and sometimes that's what you need to jump start you," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said after his team's first home win of the season that kept the team in contention for bowl eligibility.
More important, Florida State players, coaches and fans saw Akers emerge as a leader on a team in dire need for leadership from within based on recent criticism from FSU senior linebacker Jacob Pugh.
While several other Seminole players later joined the scrum surrounding Blackman after the Robinson penalty, Akers was the fastest to stand up for his teammate.
Along with his actions, Akers led the Seminoles with his play on the field, finishing with career highs of 22 carries for 199 yards and two touchdowns, his first coming after a 54-yard run earlier in the second quarter, as FSU relied on big offensive plays to beat Syracuse.
"There's a time to do those things and pick your moments, and you have to be smart when you're doing it," Fisher said of Akers' actions defending Blackman after one of several tough hits from opposing defenders on the day.
"He's right there for his teammate. They're going to fight for each other now."
The Seminoles were eerily close to succumbing to another last-minute loss at home this season, as Syracuse threatened to tie the game in the final minutes thanks to untimely miscues similar to those that cost FSU wins against Miami and Louisville last month.
Blackman fumbled a snap from center Alec Eberle with less than two minutes remaining before officials overturned the play, seeing Blackman's knee on the field as he regained possession, avoiding a costly turnover.
The overturned penalty allowed FSU to punt the football, setting the stage for its defense to close out the victory.
Like Syracuse has methodically done all season, the Orange raced down the field in 1:23 to reach the 25-yard line before kicker Cole Murphy missed a potential game-tying 47-yard field goal in the final seconds.
"There's been a lot of disappointment this year, (and) a couple embarrassing performances," said standout safety Derwin James, who had his second career interception to begin the game. "But this one was finally a great team win."
The Seminoles' defense did its best to limit Syracuse quarterback Eric Dungey, who turned a double-digit deficit to a three-point game with his 3-yard touchdown run with less than three minutes remaining.
To keep up with the Orange's high-powered offense, which ran 95 plays to gain 463 yards and converted 11 of 25 third-down attempts to control the pace throughout, FSU capitalized on big plays. Beyond Akers' two long touchdown runs, Blackman delivered a 51-yard pass to receiver Nyqwan Murray to jump out to a 21-7 lead in the first half.
Kicker Ricky Aguayo added two timely field goals to keep Syracuse out of reach.
For the second straight week, the Seminoles started true freshman at quarterback and running back.
They also had two mistakes from freshmen that could have spoiled FSU's 21-14 halftime lead, including a fumbled punt return by DJ Matthews and a potential interception by safety Hamsah Nasirildeen that was thrown to another teammate and could have been caught by a Syracuse receiver for a touchdown.
But as a youthful Seminoles team works to win six games this season and bowl eligibility, they have an emerging star in Akers, who can carry the load offensively and stand up for others in the midst of a trying season.
"Cam ran the ball extremely well," Fisher said. "He finished runs, (and) hit the home runs. He did the home run the right way, not with craziness, but good, hard runs.
"He had an outstanding day, very proud of him."