PITTSBURGH — Ja’Khi Douglas was there during the dark days at Florida State when the losses piled up and the program’s reputation as a national power seemed like a distant memory.
Those days are over. The fourth-ranked Seminoles are returning to the ACC title game for the first time in nearly a decade after pulling away from Pittsburgh for a 24-7 win on Saturday night.
“Since I’ve been here four years, we’ve been through ups and downs,” said Douglas, a redshirt junior wide receiver who caught a career-high six passes for 115 yards while filling in for injured star Keon Coleman. “It’s great that we get a chance to show the ACC, the whole world that Florida State is back.”
Jordan Travis passed for a season-high 360 yards, throwing for a touchdown and running for another as the Seminoles earned a trip to Charlotte on the first Saturday in December for the first time since 2014.
Nine years without a conference title appearance would be a blip in most places. Florida State is not most places. The program spent the back half of the 2010s in a freefall. Norvell arrived in 2020 to help turn things around and after a series of fits and starts, the Seminoles appear ready to re-enter the national conversation.
“A lot of work that goes into (reaching the ACC championship),” Norvell said. “To know we are going to get another game at the end of the regular season is big.”
If the Seminoles keep winning, there could be a couple more after the ACC final. The Seminoles, fourth in the initial College Football Playoff ranking, have won 15 straight games, and they showcased the depth Norvell has cultivated by fending off Pitt.
Travis hit tight end Markeston Douglas for a 22-yard touchdown midway through the third quarter to give Florida State a 10-point lead. Trey Benson sprinted 55 yards up the middle on the Seminoles’ next possession to put the Panthers (2-7, 1-4) away.
It did not come easy on a day the Seminoles played without leading receivers Coleman and Johnny Wilson. Wilson was ruled out well before the game due to injury, while Coleman did not take the field for warm-ups, though Norvell said he’s optimistic Coleman will be available perhaps as early as next Saturday when archrival Miami visits Doak Campbell Stadium.
Travis relied heavily on screens and dump-offs before finally getting going after halftime. The senior completed 22 of 36 passes and also ran for a 1-yard score in the second quarter to go with his touchdown strike to Markeston Douglas, giving him multiple touchdowns in a school-record 16 straight games.
Florida State’s defense did the rest. The Seminoles forced three turnovers and didn’t let the Panthers convert any of their 10 third downs.
Christian Veilleux threw for 244 yards with a touchdown and an interception for Pitt, which played well a week after getting shredded by Notre Dame but was undone by penalties and mistakes.
The Panthers were flagged 11 times for 91 yards, including an unsportsmanlike conduct call against tight end Gavin Bartholomew in the third quarter that pushed Pitt out of field-goal range with the Panthers down just three.
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The Panthers have struggled to generate much offensively all season, and a frantic sequence early in the second quarter distilled Pitt’s miserable fall to its essence.
Veilleux found a wide-open Konata Mumpfield deep down the middle of the field and Mumpfield raced 81 yards toward the end zone only to have Florida State’s Fentrell Cypress II chase him down and knock the ball free just before Mumpfield crossed the goal line. Cypress pounced on the loose ball for a touchback to end the threat and keep the game scoreless.
Florida State: The Seminoles have come a long way in Norvell’s four seasons. Florida State was drilled by the Panthers in Tallahassee in 2020 during his first year. Three years the tables have flipped completely.
Pitt: The Panthers played with the kind of effort that seems to indicate coach Pat Narduzzi’s suggestion after the loss to the Irish that Pitt didn’t bring in enough talented players during the offseason — a suggestion he later apologized for — has been forgiven. Still, Pitt will miss a bowl game for just the second time in Narduzzi’s nine-year tenure.
The Seminoles didn’t really make a compelling argument that they deserve to crack the top three while struggling to put away a 21-point underdog. If anything, Florida State’s performance might cost them a spot or two.
Florida State: Welcomes archrival Miami to Doak Campbell Stadium next Saturday.
Pitt: Travels to New York City to meet Syracuse at Yankee Stadium next Saturday.
By WILL GRAVES AP Sports Writer
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