TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Down 19-7 with 13:32 left in the fourth quarter, the Blue Devils were less than 10 feet away from a shot at spoiling Florida State’s Homecoming.
Backup quarterback Chris Dapolito had just completed a fourth-down pass to give Duke (1-8, 0-6 in the ACC) a first-and-goal on the Florida State 3-yard line. The Blue Devils had four chances to cut the Seminoles’ lead to 19-14 and preserve their upset hopes.
On the ensuing play, starting quarterback Mike Schneider launched an errant pass into the hands of Seminoles’ free safety Pat Watkins. Five plays and 80 yards later Florida State (7-2, 5-2) marched into the Duke end zone, effectively ending the Blue Devils’ upset hopes and securing the Seminoles’ 13th victory in as many games against Duke.
“Give Florida State credit, they’re a good football team and they made plays when they had to make them,” Duke head coach Ted Roof said. “We had some opportunities there and just couldn’t finish it.”
The Seminoles had several big plays early in the game, but Duke’s red zone defense held stout, forcing Florida State to settle for field goals on three early drives inside the Blue Devil 6-yard line. The short-handed Seminoles, who were without both their starting running back and top wide receiver, did not convert a single third-down opportunity.
“Coach [Jerry] Azzinaro called great defenses, and we had to execute them,” Duke linebacker Codey Lowe said. “We did that and held them in the first half and even when things got rough when we were backed up into our own end zone, we had to keep pushing and keep fighting because on any given play anything can happen.”
In the second quarter, a defensive play by Lowe set up Duke’s only score of the game. With 5:35 left in the half, linebacker Brendan Dewan burst through the Seminoles’ line untouched, forcing Florida State quarterback Chris Rix to rush his throw. The ball found its way into the arms of Lowe, who returned the interception to the Seminole 24-yard line. Seven plays later, Cedric Dargan scored on a one-yard sweep to allow the Blue Devils to enter halftime down just 9-7. It was the first time Duke had ever gone into the half against Florida State without allowing a touchdown.
“Our defense responded,” Roof said. “They went in and they shut it down when they had to, to make them kick some field goals so we could hang in the game so it didn’t get out of reach early.”
Despite the score, the Blue Devils were outgained in virtually every offensive category. Duke mustered just 59 yards in the first half, and the Blue Devils’ rushing attack was so anemic that the team’s top rusher was freshman Ronnie Drummer, who gained 24 yards on just one carry the entire game.
“I think that was their strategy, to not let us run the ball and to make us throw it, and you’ve got to take what the defense gives you sometimes,” Roof said.
Duke’s inability to move the ball on the ground put pressure on Schneider, who was hounded all day by Florida State defenders. In addition to being sacked three times, Schneider finished the day with three interceptions and one fumble, including the red zone pick-off that brought an untimely end to Duke’s best offensive drive of the day.
“He made some awfully good decisions today and moved the team well,” Roof said. “We just can’t get down in the red zone and turn it over.”
Florida State backup quarterback Wyatt Sexton, who entered the game in the second half for an ineffective Rix, torched the Blue Devils for 220 yards on just 11 passes. After Schneider’s end-zone gaffe, Sexton fired a 48-yard pass to Chauncey Stovall on the next play, and the Seminoles never looked back.
“I though Wyatt came in there and did an excellent job,” Florida State head coach Bobby Bowden said, adding that Sexton likely took back the starting job with his Saturday performance.
A four-yard touchdown run by Lamar Lewis extended the Seminoles’ lead to 26-7 and all but ensured a happy Homecoming for the more than 80,000 Florida State faithful in attendance.
“We’ve got to come back from [big plays], that’s what we did in the first half,” Dewan said. “They had like a 50-yard run and we came back and went 3-and-out right after that. That’s what we needed to do, and it just didn’t work out that way anymore toward the fourth quarter.”
Freshman kicker Gary Cismesia capped the scoring on the Seminoles’ next drive with his fifth field goal of the game, an effort that tied the Florida State record. Yet despite the final score, Saturday marked the smallest margin of victory the Seminoles had ever registered against the Blue Devils.
“Individually, I knew going into the game that this may not have been the same Florida State team, but they’ve still got good athletes,” Dewan said. “From what I’ve seen.... I knew we could compete with them.”
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