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Florida State 'finds an excuse to win' over Notre Dame

Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, left, celebrates the team's 31-27 victory over Notre Dame with teammate Ermon Lane. [AP photo]
Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, left, celebrates the team's 31-27 victory over Notre Dame with teammate Ermon Lane. [AP photo]
Published Oct. 20, 2014

TALLAHASSEE — Even when No. 2 Florida State trailed No. 5 Notre Dame in the second half Saturday night, the Seminoles' faith in themselves never wavered.

With the longest winning streak in school history, why would it?

"The Navy Seals have a saying for it: find an excuse to win," Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher said. "We find excuses to win."

Saturday night, the excuse was this: The game was too close.

Sure, Notre Dame dominated the first half with twice as many plays (50-24) and yards (254-111). But all that mattered was that FSU trailed only 17-10, as Fisher reminded his team at halftime.

"One thing that people need to realize about this Seminole team is when we've got our back to the wall, we always rise," quarterback Jameis Winston said. "Then we started playing harder."

As he has done throughout his college career, Winston rallied. After a rough first half (8-of-15 passing, 92 yards), he was 15-of-16 for 181 yards after halftime.

The reigning Heisman Trophy winner moved into eighth place in program history with 5,935 yards, and he became the first quarterback since 2000 to win his first 20 games.

"He was just determined," said receiver Rashad Greene, who recorded the 12th 100-yard game of his career. "We were all determined to get it done, any way, any how."

That's what the Seminoles have done for 23 consecutive games — the longest active streak in Division I-A. During that stretch, their excuses to win have varied.

Last year's perfect season featured a string of double-digit victories until they needed to rally from 18 points to beat Auburn in the national title game.

"I feel like it was tougher in the national championship game because we were so used to blowing everybody out," defensive end Mario Edwards said. "When we really had to get down and play the game until the very last end, we kind of struggled. We were tired."

Now, the Seminoles (7-0) are tested.

FSU didn't lead then-No. 22 Clemson until the winning touchdown in overtime of its 23-17 victory last month. A week later, it overcame a 24-7 first-quarter deficit at North Carolina State to churn out a 56-41 road victory.

So even when the Irish appeared to take the lead with a fourth-down touchdown pass with 17 seconds left that was nullified by an offensive pass interference penalty, Winston knew FSU would stay unbeaten.

"There's 17 seconds," Winston said. "They gave us too much time."

Notre Dame might end up as FSU's toughest test of the season. The Seminoles don't play again until Oct. 30 at Louisville, and they might not face a ranked team until the bowl game — or the inaugural college football playoff.

"You can say whatever you want," Fisher said. "This team is dominant. Is it this? Is it not as spectacular? This team understands how to win. …

"I'll tell you what, I wouldn't trade it for any team in America."

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Contact Matt Baker at mbaker@tampabay.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.

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