TALLAHASSEE — Florida State quarterback McKenzie Milton walked out of Doak Campbell Stadium on Sunday after completing one of the most unbelievable comebacks in college football history.
Not on the field. His Seminoles lost 41-38 to No. 9 Notre Dame in overtime.
No, his comeback was everything that led up to the comeback he orchestrated, even if it came up short with a missed field goal.
“To see him run on the field,” FSU quarterback Jordan Travis said, “it gives me chills.”
Milton’s story is familiar by now. When he dislocated his knee at Raymond James Stadium in 2018 as a star at UCF, doctors didn’t know if he’d be able to keep his leg. His surgeon, Dr. Bruce Levy, hoped he’d be able to walk without pain eventually.
Playing again? That would be “nothing short of miraculous,” Levy said.
Playing well off the bench in the final minutes of a big game against a top-10 opponent? That had Levy searching for words early Monday morning after watching his patient’s return in the stadium.
“Wow,” Levy said in a text message, “that was incredible!!!!
Milton began Sunday on the bench behind Travis, who flashed enough to offset his three interceptions that led to Irish touchdowns. But Travis’ legs cramped in the fourth quarter, and he wasn’t available to return. Coach Mike Norvell turned to Milton.
“You never know when that opportunity’s going to present itself,” Norvell said.
Milton was prepared. He knew he would be. He kept telling Norvell, “I’ll be ready” all week.
Down 38-28, Milton made his first appearance since that ghastly knee dislocation against USF in November 2018. The two-time AAC offensive player of the year responded immediately with a 22-yard completion. He kept the drive alive with a third-down conversion, and the possession ended in a touchdown rush by Tampa Bay Tech product Treshaun Ward.
Milton had more magic in him, leading FSU (0-1) down the field on the next possession. A shovel pass to Darion Williamson. A 5-yard scramble. And a drive that ended in a 43-yard field goal by Ryan Fitzgerald to tie the score.
He didn’t have time to think about his emotions in the moment; he was too busy trying to help his team win a game. But when a player rolled up on his leg in the first series and Milton felt fine, he knew he was good.
“When I was out there,” Milton said, “it felt like it was three years ago.”
The results weren’t quite what they were three years ago at UCF. FSU is another year (or more) away from contending for a New Year’s Six bowl game. The Seminoles don’t have the talent or depth to compete with a perennial top-10 team like the Irish (1-0). The offensive line is better but still leaks too much. There were too many penalties, blown coverages and missed blocks.
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“We just made too many mistakes to be able to overcome that tonight,” Norvell said.
But they were close.
Norvell’s offense built for playmakers finally has some. Running back Jashuan Corbin ripped off an 89-yard touchdown run. Another back, Ja’Khi Douglas, broke away on third down for a 60-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter. Both, notably, were signed by Norvell.
So was Pinellas Park High product Lawrance Toafili, who bulldozed his way to a 20-yard run. And IMG Academy’s Malik McClain, who had a 21-yard catch and run. And Andrew Parchment, the Kansas transfer who caught a fourth-quarter touchdown.
He led FSU into overtime, but the drive stalled quickly when the ball slipped out of his hands on third down. It initially was ruled a fumble, but Norvell’s timeout allowed for a challenge. Instead, it was an incompletion. The extra yardage didn’t matter when the 37-yard field goal drifted wide left. Notre Dame ended it moments later with a 41-yarder.
Milton was still processing the night after the game. His disappointment was unmistakable, but so was his pride. His gratitude. He thanked the family and fans who supported him, the coaches who believed in him, God for healing him.
Milton spent years grinding toward an uncertain future, hoping for a near-impossible chance like the one he got in a primetime game against a top-10 opponent in front of a Doak Campbell Stadium crowd that hasn’t buzzed like this in years.
Sunday night’s comeback came up short. But Milton’s comeback didn’t. It’s still going.
“For me,” Milton said, “we’re just starting.”
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