No. 16 ranked Florida State ended a three-game losing streak to rival Florida Friday night with a dramatic 45-38 victory behind quarterback Jordan Travis and a late defensive stand in the final minute of the game. Travis had big games in the air and on the ground all night, while the Seminoles defense made a last-minute fourth-down stop as the crowd at Doak Campbell Stadium reached fever pitch.
Gators QB Anthony Richardson’s pass to the end zone fell incomplete with 39 seconds left, turning the ball over to Florida State on touchdowns and ending the game’s highest-scoring game in opposition history. What will be discussed for ages are two plays on the final drive, a fourth tackle and 18 passes called against FSU that extended Florida’s comeback attempt, and a clear face mask for Richardson that was uncalled for during the aforementioned incomplete pass.
Richardson threw three touchdowns in the first 21 minutes of the game as the Gators jumped out to a 21-14 lead, but the redshirt sophomore got cold feet later with 11 straight incompletions. The third quarter proved especially significant as Florida State forced three consecutive punts against a Florida team that didn’t punt in the first half.
The win marks the first in contention for third-year Florida State head coach Mike Norvell, and he has Travis to thank for that. The redshirt junior threw for 270 yards and a touchdown and ran for another 83 yards and two more scores. Running back Trey Benson added a three-run home run for the Noles, who improved to 9-3 with the win.
Travis runs wild
In a game full of momentum swings and notable reel plays, Travis’ elusive running stood out on several occasions. With the Seminoles trailing 21-14 and facing third-and-10 from the Florida 11-yard line in the second quarter, it looked as though Florida was about to sack Travis for a big loss. But with Travis back 18 yards behind the line of scrimmage, he managed to dribble from five different Florida defenders, including a couple who had more than one chance to bring him down. He finally slid out of the end zone and scored on the next play.
Then, in the third quarter, Travis repeated the play in an almost identical position. On a third-and-11 from Florida’s 13-yard line, Travis took off and evaded several tackles before sliding a touchdown short of the goal line. The play gave the Seminoles a first and score and set up a touchdown run from Benson that put FSU up 31-24.
While Travis completed only 13 of 30 passes, he also came in with his arm in a key late position. Facing 3rd-and-6 with the game tied at 38 in the fourth quarter, Travis found Johnny Wilson for a 21-yard completion to extend the drive that allowed FSU’s winning score of the game.
Finale with a bang
Florida State started 4-0 and climbed to #23 in the AP Top 25 in the process. Then adversity came. Amidst a string of nasty injuries, Noles went down three straight as pressure began to mount on Norvell. After consecutive losing seasons to start his tenure, it looked like they might struggle just to make a bowl game in his third year. But since their bye week, which came after a 34-28 loss to Clemson on Oct. 15, Knowles has been a perfect 5-0.
While some of that success corresponded with a loosening of the schedule, much of it came in a dominant fashion. Going into Friday, FSU’s four-game winning streak featured four wins of 25 or more points. While the streak of domination ended with a tight game against the Gators, the Seminoles showed their improvement on a national showing spot against a bitter rival. By winning the bowl, Florida State can finish with 10 wins for the first time since 2016, which was Jimbo Fisher’s next year as coach.
Frasier’s Jaguavion, Justin Schurter, Thailand’s Xiaoqiao Baumann and Marcus Burke all missed the game due to injury, leaving Richardson with few confirmed goals in the passing game. In their absence, Richardson completed passes for just three players with the returning Ricky Pearsall as his primary target. The junior jersey set a new career high for receiving yards when he caught a 43-yard pass with 11:35 left in the second quarter. This was Richardson’s final finish until he had 4 minutes left in the game.
However, the Gators still managed to rebound from a 14-point deficit in the fourth quarter behind a strong offense. Trevor Etienne totaled 129 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries, including a 45-yard touchdown tying the game with 7:41 remaining. Montrell Johnson Jr. added 85 yards and a score on the ground, while Richardson rushed for 41 yards. If the Gators are able to be healthier at receiver in a bowl game, their offense could be one dimensional lower than most Friday games have proven.