“This is what you’re built for — moments like this,” Norvell said. “That’s why we train the way we train. It’s why we push to the standard we push to.”
And it’s ultimately why the Seminoles remain College Football Playoff contenders after surviving a 31-24 thriller at Memorial Stadium.
The ’Noles (4-0, 2-0 ACC) weren’t dominant the way they were in their last win at Clemson (a 37-point rout during the 2013 national title run). FSU never led in regulation. Norvell’s high-powered offense was outgained 429-311. His defense allowed one of the least explosive offenses to rack up three plays of 20-plus yards in the first half alone. There were too many penalties, too many dropped passes, too many unguarded Tigers and too little pass protection.
But there was a determination forged through six-plus years of wandering through mediocrity on a climb back to glory. Seven consecutive losses to Clemson (2-2, 0-2) added to the stakes and left Jordan Travis in tears afterward.
“Just the journey, how far I’ve come as a man and as a player,” Travis said.
Travis proved how far he has come with a record-breaking performance. It wasn’t just the play that could become his Heisman moment — a 24-yard fade to Michigan State transfer Keon Coleman on the second play of overtime for the winning touchdown. It was everything that preceded it, too.
Limited at times by an injury to his left (nonthrowing) shoulder he sustained last weekend, Travis persevered. Travis persevered. He wiggled past Clemson star Jeremiah Trotter on a fourth-and-1 rush in the second quarter, then fooled the defense on a touchdown pass to Coleman in the second quarter. Travis also pounded up the middle on a goal-line sneak for a score in the second. His winner was the 82nd total touchdown of his career, moving him past Chris Weinke for the most in FSU history.
Travis’ team persevered, too. FSU was trailing 10-0 early in the second quarter. Too many of the other recent Seminole teams would have crumbled in front of a wild, antagonistic crowd of 81,500.
This team didn’t.
“That’s what this program is,” Norvell said. “We’ve been through it. We’ve been challenged. We’ve been knocked down. We’ve had to get up.”
Other than Travis, the defense got knocked down the most Saturday. There were missed tackles, blown coverages, a costly face-mask penalty and a holding that negated a red-zone stop.
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But there was also in-game improvement. Excluding an end-of-half kneel down, FSU let Clemson score on four of its first six drives but kept the Tigers off the board for the rest of the game.
The turning point came late in the third quarter with FSU trailing 24-17 and sputtering after back-to-back three-and-outs.
“We had to go out there and make a play,” linebacker Kalen DeLoach said.
He made it one of FSU’s biggest in years, crushing quarterback Cade Klubnik on a blitz and knocking the ball loose. DeLoach didn’t see the ball at first but saw teammate Braden Fiske try to pick it up. DeLoach took it instead and ran 56 yards for FSU’s first scoop and score since Jermaine Johnson did it at Clemson two years ago to tie the score at 24.
The defense wasn’t perfect after that. FSU allowed an 11-play drive that end with a missed 29-yard field goal that if made would have given Clemson the lead in the final two minutes.
But it was good enough. The ’Noles stuffed a third-and-1 pass in overtime, then forced an incompletion on the final play that sent FSU’s players onto the field to celebrate the program’s first win over Clemson since 2014 (which also came in overtime).
That team made the playoff before its fatal flaws were exposed in a 39-point loss to Oregon in the Rose Bowl. These Seminoles have a shot at getting to the semifinals, too. They have the best pair of wins in the country by beating No. 12 LSU and Clemson, the reigning ACC champion. At minimum, FSU has re-established itself as the conference’s premier program. Travis’ fade to Coleman and the final defensive stand felt like changing-of-the-guard moments.
Those two plays were also definitive plays that Norvell called “the continued verification of what we’re doing.”
“You see toughness,” Norvell said. “You see strength. You see belief.”
You see a team that, even after a sloppy start in a hostile environment, can find a way to vanquish a talented rival for the first time in nine years. You see a team that can get outgained, out-rushed and, at times, outwitted but still triumph. You see a team that spent months building for something like Saturday — and one that, when it mattered most, found a way to deliver.
Contact Matt Baker at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.
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