FSU edges Michigan in wild Orange Bowl

FSU’s Dalvin Cook, the game MVP, fends off Michigan safety Delano Hill during the first half, when the Seminoles led 20-6.
FSU’s Dalvin Cook, the game MVP, fends off Michigan safety Delano Hill during the first half, when the Seminoles led 20-6.
Published Dec. 31, 2016

MIAMI — The lead was gone. No. 10 Florida State now trailed by three points, and there was less than two minutes to play.

No. 6 Michigan, which looked flat in the first half of Friday night's Orange Bowl at Hard Rock Stadium, had just scored a pair of touchdowns in less than five minutes to take control of the game.

They have a lot of sayings around the FSU football program. One of them is: "So what? Now what? Go on to the next play."

"Go on to the next play and handle what you have to handle," Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher said.

The next play was a kickoff that Keith Gavin fielded 1-yard deep in his end zone. He hesitated, and it seemed he would take a knee for a touchback, as senior and fellow returner Kermit Whitfield yelled and signaled for the true freshman to do. But Gavin raced up the middle of the field, returning the kick 66 yards.

"They kicked it so far, and I misjudged it," Whitfield said. "When (Gavin) caught it, I was like, 'Oh, no,' but he took off. And I'm glad he did that. He got us the win."

The game in front of 67,432 that had one momentum swing after another in the fourth quarter had another one.

Four plays later Nyqwan Murray outjumped a Michigan defensive back in the end zone for a 12-yard touchdown catch with 36 seconds left to give FSU a 33-30 lead.

"As soon as the ball left my hand, I knew he was going to come down with it," quarterback Deondre Francois said. "I just knew in my heart he was going to come down with it."

But, the two teams were not quite through twisting emotions.

Michigan's Chris Wormley blocked FSU's ensuing extra point, and freshman Josh Metellus of nearby Pembroke Pines returned it for a two-point defensive score to cut the Seminoles' lead to 33-32.

The Wolverines took over on their 25 after the kickoff, but FSU's defense sealed it on a fourth-down interception near midfield by defensive back Carlos Becker with 16 seconds left.

"As we know, nothing comes easy," Fisher said. "Nothing comes easy in anything, and we can make it that way. I know that, dadgum."

"It was hard-fought," Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said. "We fought."

The Wolverines (10-3) fought without all-world linebacker Jabrill Peppers, who did not play because of a left hamstring injury sustained during Thursday's practice.

Peppers, who is expected to forgo his senior season and enter the NFL draft, tested his hamstring during pregame warmups.

"I knew I wasn't myself," he said. "I knew I couldn't be myself, because I couldn't even run. If the game was played Saturday, I would have played 100 percent. Just really needed that extra day to recover."

The Wolverines' high-powered offense didn't get in gear until the second half and was jump-started when linebacker Mike McCray returned an interception 14 yards for a score that cut the Seminoles' lead to 20-15.

But Dalvin Cook, the Miami native who is FSU's all-time leading rusher, raced up the sideline 71 yards on third and 13 from the FSU 13. That spark led to a 3-yard touchdown run three plays later from Francois that gave the Seminoles some breathing room and a 27-15 lead.

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But Michigan wasn't going away.

The Wolverines scored with 5:22 to play on an 8-yard pass from Wilton Speight to Khalid Hill.

They took their first lead of the game with 1:57 to play when Chris Evans ran 30 yards for a touchdown. The two-point conversion pass was good, and the Wolverines led 30-27 with less than two minutes to play.

With the way the Wolverines defense was bottling up Cook in the second half (his 71-yard run the exception) and with the way Francois was misfiring on his pass attempts, it looked bleak for the Seminoles (10-3).

But ... "So what? Now what? Go on to the next play."

Cook, who caught a pass for 21 yards on the first play of the winning drive, said afterward that he has not decided whether he will turn pro (he then announced Saturday he was leaving for the draft). The junior also said he never thought of not playing in the game so as to protect himself against injury that could ruin his draft status.

"It means the world to me," said Cook, named the game's most outstanding player after rushing for 145 yards and catching three passes for 62 yards. "It was the best game of my life."

Fisher said the team would support whatever choice Cook makes.

"He is always part of this family," Fisher said. "I know one thing: If we get him, we'll be the luckiest team in the world. Whoever drafts him will be the luckiest team in the world. Somebody is going to be happy."

The redshirt freshman Francois was 9-for-27 passing for 222 yards with the two touchdowns and the one interception. Not eye-popping numbers by any means.

"No, it isn't," Fisher said. "The throws he made, the moments he made them, when he made them, how he made them, that's championship football, know what I'm saying?"

One of those throws was a 92-yard touchdown pass to Murray in the first quarter that came after Michigan downed a punt at the FSU 2.

Murray, who caught the ball at the 50, atoned for fumbling a punt at the 1 that led to Michigan's first field goal.

His next catch turned out to be the biggest one of the game.

"Coach called the play, and I went out there with a gut mind-set to execute a play," Murray said of his winning reception. "Without Deondre's good throw and without the (offensive) line I wouldn't have been able to make that catch, so I just thank them guys, and we won the Orange Bowl."

PREGAME FALL: The Orange Bowl started with a stumble by FSU mascot Renegade. The horse fell during a pregame ceremony with Indian warrior "Osceola" aboard. Osceola, played by FSU student Brendan Carter, was about to plant his flaming spear in the turf when Renegade began to backpedal awkwardly and went down on his side as the crowd gasped. Renegade and Osceola quickly rose to their feet. Osceola stuck with school tradition by sticking the spear in the turf before climbing back on the Appaloosa and riding off. The mishap at the 30-yard line occurred as the Seminoles took the field, with the Wolverines waiting in their tunnel. "Never seen this happen before," former FSU quarterback and current ESPN analyst Danny Kanell tweeted. "Let's hope the offense executes better." Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh had raved earlier in the month about Renegade. "One of those great traditions," Harbaugh said. "Renegade, the war horse. The spear. ... This is as close as I've ever been to that. I'm very much excited about that."

Information from Times wires was used in this report.