Tuesday, November 2, 2010

November 2, 1995: Down go the Seminoles

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. - After four decades as an independent, Florida State joined the Atlantic Coast Conference in time for the 1992 college football season, then spent the next four seasons being the bullies of the conference. This shouldn't have been too unexpected for the other ACC teams, as the Seminoles were in the middle of a stretch of continuous top-five finishes. They were a national powerhouse, and they licked their chops at the prospects of playing their new conference opponents.

For the first three years, there was no competition, as Florida State went undefeated in conference play its first three years in the league. The Seminoles won their first five ACC games in 1995, as well, heading into their game on November 2, 1995, with an all-time ACC record of 29-0. The Seminoles were ranked no. 2 in the country heading into their showdown with Virginia, which was ranked no. 24.

Playing on the road, Florida State went into halftime trailing 27-21. The Cavaliers extended their lead with two more field goals in the second half, taking a 33-21 lead with 7:53 remaining. It was starting to look like Florida State's streak would end.

The Seminoles quickly struck back, needing only 44 seconds to score again to cut the deficit to 33-28. Virginia tried to hold on, but had to give Florida State the ball back for one final drive. The Seminoles drove downfield, finally getting to the Virginia 5-yard line with five seconds to play. There was time for one more play, and trailing by five, the Seminoles had to go for the touchdown.

One of the advantages of the position they were in was that almost the entire playbook was available for Florida State. They could run or pass, could pick any of the many weapons they had on the field. They could look for the best matchup and try to exploit it.

Instead, Florida State went for trickery. Putting their quarterback in the shotgun, they ran a direct snap to running back Warren Dunn, who looked like he was going to be able to run through a big hole into the end zone. At the last moment, though, he was met by two Virginia defenders; the three players collided and fell. Dunn's shoulder was on the goal line when he hit the ground, but the ball was behind it. As he tried in vain to reach the ball across the goal line, the Virginia players still held it back. He had been stopped.

Virginia fans stormed the field, celebrating their team's shocking win. Florida State walked off the field in shock, their first ever conference loss. That loss continued to stand out in the years that followed, as well. The Seminoles won their final two conference games in 1995, then went undefeated the next two years. In all, the Seminoles won 70 of their first 72 ACC games. With every win they racked up, their final-play loss to the Cavaliers looked more and more improbable.

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