The 2002 Toyota Gator Bowl:
Florida State 30, Virginia Tech 17
January 1, 2002
by Will Stewart, TechSideline.com
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Jacksonville, FL - Missed opportunities for Virginia Tech and big plays by Florida State spelled doom for the Hokies, as Virginia Tech fell prey to a late scoring surge by the Seminoles and lost the Toyota Gator Bowl, 30-17.
Much like the 1999 national championship game, the Hokies led this one heading into the fourth quarter, this time by the margin of 17-13. And much like that game, Florida State ran off three unanswered scores in the fourth quarter to win going away.
The star of the game for the Seminoles was wideout Javon Walker, who caught two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter of 77 and 23 yards and added another key 50-yard, non-scoring grab. Walker had 3 catches for 150 yards and 2 touchdowns in the fourth quarter and 4 catches for 195 yards overall.
Walker's performance offset a solid outing by Tech quarterback Grant Noel, who bounced back from an awful performance in the final regular season game against Miami to go 15-of-27 for 269 yards, one touchdown, and no interceptions. Tech wide receiver Andre Davis caught 5 passes for 158 yards and a touchdown, a 55-yard catch and run on a crossing pattern that gave Tech its 17-13 lead late in the third quarter.
The Tech running game was surprisingly ineffective. The Hokies netted just 43 yards on 40 carries, led by Kevin Jones' 55 yards on 23 carries. But Jones was bottled up most of the day, with his longest run being just 14 yards.
The Seminoles had 430 yards of offense, and Tech did what they could ill afford to do: give up the big play. In addition, for the second straight time in a bowl game against Florida State, the Hokies lost the special teams battle. With Tech leading 3-0 early in the second quarter, Florida State blocked a Tech punt, recovered it on the Hokie one yard line, and turned it into a touchdown on a 1-yard plunge by quarterback Chris Rix.
In addition, FSU got field goals of 50, 47, and 35 yards from freshman kicker Xavier Beitia. All in all, the Seminole special teams were directly or indirectly responsible for 16 points (3 FG's and a touchdown), while the Hokies only got one field goal from their special teams.
"It was pretty simple," Tech coach Frank Beamer said after the game. "Too many big plays for them, and us not taking advantage of some field position opportunities. When you play a good football team like Florida State and you don't take advantage, you just don't win."
The missed opportunities that Beamer was referring to came primarily in the first and third quarters. With the Hokies leading 3-0 in the first quarter, Noel hit Ernest Wilford with a 22-yard TD pass, but the play was called back due to a holding penalty. Noel fumbled on the next play ("I was going to cock my arm and throw, and someone knocked it away from me," he explained after the game) to give possession back to FSU.
In the third quarter, after the Hokies had opened the second half with a touchdown drive that turned a 10-3 half time deficit into a 10-10 tie, Rix and tailback Nick Maddox fumbled a handoff exchange, and the Hokies recovered on the FSU 31-yard line. The Hokies were knocked back to the 38 yard line and punted from there, and a golden opportunity passed them by. FSU responded by going on an 11-play, 58-yard drive and kicking a field goal to go up 13-10.
Wilford's TD being called back and Tech not converting the FSU fumble into points came back to haunt the Hokies when FSU went on their inevitable scoring binge, outscoring VT 17-0 in the final quarter.
Despite the missed opportunities and big plays, Tech was still in pretty good shape when FSU took over on their 22-yard line, holding a slim 23-17 lead, with 5:22 to play. But the Seminoles gained 54 yards on five straight runs by tailback Greg Jones, including 22- and 23-yard runs.
Facing a fourth and inches on the Tech 24, the Seminoles went for it, picked it up on a Rix keeper, and threw a 23-yard TD pass to Walker on the next play. That boosted FSU's lead to 30-17 with 2:14 to go, and the Hokies couldn't recover.
"That last drive was old-fashioned," FSU Coach Bobby Bowden remarked after the game. "That's not us, is it? We locked on our blocks and ran it right up the middle."
With the loss, Tech finishes at 8-4, the first time they have failed to win 9 or more games in a season since going 7-5 in 1997. Florida State also finishes at 8-4, their worst finish since going 7-4-1 in 1986, and the first time since 1986 that they have failed to win at least 10 games in a season.
"The win meant a lot going back into next semester," Bowden said. "They got the ship headed back in the right direction. To win your last game is always good for morale and momentum for the next spring."
"Give Florida State a lot of credit," Beamer said in his post-game remarks. "Great coaches and great players. Give 'em credit."
The Seminoles had the ball first, but failed to pick up a first down as the Hokies sandwiched a Nathaniel Adibi sack between two incompletions by FSU QB Chris Rix.
Tech took over on the FSU 47, and a 16-yard completion to Bob Slowikowski and a 14-yard run by Kevin Jones quickly took the ball inside the FSU 20. The drive stalled when Noel was sacked for a nine-yard loss on second down, and the Hokies settled for a 36-yard field goal by Carter Warley.
FSU started their second possession on their 20. They picked up one first down on a flanker screen but then were forced to punt, and on the punt the Seminoles violated the two-yard halo rule. The Hokies took over on their 28-yard line.
On third and 7, Noel hit Andre Davis on a crossing pattern that the speedster turned into a 51-yard gain, taking the ball down to the FSU 18 yard line. After a loss of four, Noel hit Ernest Wilford on third and 14 from the 22 for a touchdown, but the play was wiped out on a holding penalty. On the ensuing play, Noel fumbled under pressure, and the Seminoles recovered on their own 46.
After a Mike Daniels sack of Rix, Tech cornerback Eric Green picked off Rix's sideline pass and returned it nine yards to the FSU 44. The Hokies ran a trick play on first down, calling a reverse option pass. Richard Johnson threw the ball short down to the 15-yard line, where Ernest Wilford came back on it but then dropped it after being hit by the Seminoles. When the drive stalled two plays later, Tech punter Vinnie Burns pinned the 'Noles at their six yard line.
FSU steadily moved the ball out away from the goal line, picking up two first downs and overcoming another Tech sack of Rix in the process. Rix then hit Javon Walker for 45 yards to the Hokie 28. Adibi killed the drive with a sack of Rix on third and 12 from the 30, and after an FSU punt, the Hokies took over on their 11 yard line early in the second quarter.
Noel again hit Slowikowski for a long gainer to the 31-yard line, but a fumbled snap, an illegal procedure, and a holding call on a long shovel-pass gain did Tech in. The Hokies punted from their 25-yard line, and Burns boomed a 50-yarder. The Hokies threw the punt returner for an additional 8-yard loss, giving the Seminoles the ball on their 18-yard line with 11:23 to go second quarter.
Florida State moved the ball out to midfield on the strength of a scramble by Rix and a 19-yard completion to Nick Maddox, but they weren't able to get much farther. They punted for a touchback, and the field position battle had swung back in FSU's favor.
Three plays later, Tech's poor field position led to disaster as the Seminoles blocked a Burns punt and recovered at the Tech one-foot line. Rix dove over the top for an easy TD that made it 7-0 Florida State, with 6:32 to go in the second quarter.
The Hokies continued to flounder on offense, picking up just one first down with the running game before being forced to punt. The Seminoles were soon beating on Tech's door again, as Rix completed a perfect 41-yard strike to Craphonso Thorpe to the Tech 28. On second and 10 from the 18, Mike Daniels knifed through on a blitz for a sack, forcing the Seminoles into a third and 20 from the 28. FSU false started on the next play, bumping it to third and 25. Rix threw an incompletion, and Xavier Beitia followed with a low, line-drive 50-yard field goal with 1:26 to go. The kick was the longest of his career for the freshman.
At half time, the statistical picture was dimming for the Hokies. They had minus-2 yards rushing on 19 carries and 98 yards overall (51 of which came on one play). The Seminoles had 158 total yards (19 rushing, 139 passing), and most other stats were fairly even. The blocked punt and Tech's failure to take advantage of its opportunities, plus the drive-killing penalties, were the big difference in the game at 10-3.
Noel was 4-11 for 100 yards at half time, with two drops by Wilford and a failure by Davis to stay inbounds on a very catchable sideline pattern. On the defensive side, Tech was managing to hold their own and had sacked Rix four times. FSU's block of Vinnie Burns' punt was their third punt block of the season.
The Hokies came out firing in the second half, driving 71 yards in 9 plays for the tying TD. The drive featured a 30-yard pass to Davis and a 22-yard catch and run by Parham. The Hokies went with the running game from there, and Jones ran in nearly untouched on an option play from the 5-yard line, evening the score up at 10-10.
The Hokies got a break on FSU's first drive of the second half. Rix and Nick Maddox bobbled a handoff exchange, and Mike Daniels recovered for Tech at the Florida State 31 yard line. Two incompletions and a sack of Noel pushed the Hokies back, and Burns punted to the 12 yard line.
FSU methodically drove the ball to the Hokie 30 yard line, highlighted by a 26-yard completion to Atrews Bell. Beitia hit another long field goal, nailing a 47-yarder to complete an 11-play, 58 yard drive that took 5:37 off the clock.
Needing a boost, the Hokies got a 38-yard kickoff return from Richard Johnson to the Tech 45. On second and ten, FSU blitzed, the Hokies picked it up, and Noel hit Davis on a crossing pattern that he turned into a 55-yard touchdown to make it 17-13 Hokies, with 40 seconds to go in the third quarter.
Facing third and five from their 23-yard line on the first play of the fourth quarter, Rix threw a right sideline floater to Javon Walker, who had gotten behind Tech cornerback Ronyell Whitaker by five yards. Walker hauled in the pass and outran Whitaker to the end zone, making it a 77-yard TD. Florida State was up, 20-17.
The Hokies responded by driving smartly down the field, but on a critical fourth and one from the Seminole 33, Kevin Jones was stopped off tackle, short of the first down. FSU took over on their 32 yard line with 12:08 to go.
Rix fired a 50-yarder to Walker, who once again had beaten Whitaker deep. Walker stumbled on the play but still managed to catch the ball on the Tech 18-yard line. The Hokie defense stiffened and held, and with 10:13 to go, Beitia bounced a 35-yard field goal attempt off the left upright and through for a 23-17 lead.
The ensuing kickoff bounced down the sideline and narrowly stayed in bounds, forcing Johnson to pick it up. He was tackled on the 8-yard line, and the Hokies had to start from deep in their own territory. Behind some option keepers by Noel and some crisp short passing, the Hokies moved out to midfield. On third and 7 from the FSU 47, Noel's pass to Andre Davis was broken up. The Hokies punted, and FSU took over on their 22 yard line with 5:22 to go.
FSU tailback Greg Jones immediately ripped off back to back 22-yard and 23-yard runs to take the ball to Tech's 33 yard line. Three more Jones runs took it down to the Tech 24, and facing a fourth and inches with 2:48 to go, FSU coach Bobby Bowden kept his offense on the field. Rix went over the top on a keeper, and the referees spotted the ball just inches over the first down marker on the measurement.
On the next play, Walker beat Whitaker one final time for a 23-yard TD pass. 30-17, Florida State, with 2:14 to go, and the ball game was over.
RUSHING: Virginia Tech-Jones 23-55, Ferguson 3-13, Burnell 2-1, Noel 12-(-26). Florida State-Jones 23-120, Maddox 3-6, Gardner 1-(-3), Rix 12-(-19).
PASSING: Virginia Tech-Noel 15-27-0-269, Randall 0-1-1-0, R. Johnson 0-1-0-0. Florida State-Rix 12-25-1-326.
RECEIVING: Virginia Tech-And Davis 5-158, Ferguson 5-32, Slowikowski 2-36, E. Johnson 2-21, Parham 1-22. Florida State-Walker 4-195, Bell 3-43, Thorpe 2-48, Gardner 2-21, Maddox 1-19.