SOUTH BEND, Ind. - It was hyped as the Game of the Century - not to be confused with earlier Games of the Century. Top ranked and undefeated Florida State traveled to South Bend to take on second ranked and undefeated Notre Dame. It was one of the most anticipated regular-season college football games in years, with the added excitement of Notre Dame being one of the two teams participating.
Even though Notre Dame had the home-field advantage and the superior tradition, they were still considered significant underdogs to the powerful Seminoles. Led by soon-to-be Heisman winner Charlie Ward, Florida State was an offensive powerhouse. They had gotten this close to national prominence before, playing Miami in a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup in 1991. Florida State lost that game on a missed field goal on the final play, the Seminoles had been looking for retribution ever since.
Notre Dame, meanwhile, hadn't been No. 1 since 1988, a five-year stretch that seemed like a long time for the tradition-laden school. This game against Florida State was their chance to leap into the top spot, and with only one regular-season game left to play after it, the Irish had a great chance at being No. 1 entering their bowl game.
Notre Dame took control of the game in the second quarter, taking a 21-7 lead into the locker room at halftime, the Irish kept their lead, matching Florida State's 10 second half points with 10 of their own. Late in the game, the Irish still had a 14-point lead.
With their backs against the wall, Florida State began the comeback. Led by the running of Lee Becton and the clutch passing of Ward, Florida State drove down field. On fourth and 20, Ward Kez McCorvey for a touchdown to cut the lead to 31-24 with 1:39 left. Rather than onside kick after the touchdown, Florida State coach Bobby Bowden kicked away, perhaps knowing the Seminoles would get the ball back. And get it back they did, forcing a three-and-out and giving them one more chance.
It only took Ward three plays to get the ball down to the Irish 14 with three seconds to play. He took the snap, rolled out to avoid a rusher, and calmly fired into the end zone.
As the ball fell incomplete, and as Notre Dame players and fans rushed the field to celebrate, Florida State players dropped their heads. For the second time in three years, they had played in a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup as an undefeated team, and for the second time, they had lost on the final play.
Meanwhile, Notre Dame was jubilant, having reclaimed the No. 1 spot that the school considered to be its birthright. Their joy only lasted one week, though, as the Irish were stunned by Boston College the following week on a final-play field goal. The Irish haven't been ranked No. 1 since.