Photo courtesy of North Carolina athletics
Throughout the 1990’s, no state in college football had the success that the state of Florida did.
During the decade, Florida, Florida State and Miami combined for four national championships. On Oct. 30, 2004 however, Halloween came early for the Sunshine State.
Entering the weekend, all three schools had not lost on the same day since Oct. 14, 1978. That Saturday would see all three go down — all by one score. Both the Seminoles and the Hurricanes were ranked in the top five with national championship aspirations.
Upset in College Park
The fifth-ranked Seminoles were in College Park to take on a Maryland team that was 3-4 and had managed a grand total of 17 points over its previous three games. Florida State had been 13-0 all-time against the Terrapins and 11-0 since joining the ACC in 1992.
The day however, would belong to the Terrapins. Joel Statham passed for 330 yards and accounted for two touchdowns for Maryland in the 20-17 win.
Statham’s rushing touchdown late in the first half gave the Terrapins a 13-3 halftime lead. His lone mistake of the game however, let FSU back into the contest.
The second half was less than two minutes old when FSU’s Antonio Cromartie returned a Statham interception 40 yards for a touchdown to cut the lead to three. But less than 90 seconds later, Maryland was back in the end zone.
Maryland wouldn’t score over the final 27-plus minutes, but Statham’s 72-yard touchdown pass to Josh Allen made the score 20-10 and that would hold up. FSU quarterback Chris Rix, who replaced an ineffective Wyatt Sexton, cut the lead back to three with a touchdown pass to Chauncey Stovall midway through the final quarter.
The Seminoles however, failed to score again. After kicker Xavier Beitia missed his third field goal of the day with less than five minutes to play, FSU turned the ball over on downs with less than two minutes to play in the contest.
Dawgs End the Skid
Florida was unranked and in the midst of a disappointing season. After a loss to Mississippi State the week prior, Florida had fired head coach Ron Zook, who was allowed to finish the season.
Rival Georgia was ranked No. 10 and 6-1, but beating the Gators had become impossible. The Gators had won six straight in the series and 13 of 14 dating back to 1990.
Florida had upset No. 4 Georgia the year before and in 2002, handed the SEC champion Bulldogs their only loss. During the annual rivalry contest in Jacksonville, Florida never led. Georgia ultimately ended the losing streak with a 31-24 victory.
For a half, it looked like things might come easy for Georgia. Quarterback David Greene and tight end Leonard Pope hooked up for a pair of first-quarter touchdowns before Thomas Brown rushed for another in the second. At the break, the Bulldogs led 21-7.
Georgia extended the lead to 24-7 in the third quarter, but in a 7-minute span, Florida quarterback Chris Leak threw touchdown passes to Andre Caldwell and Bill Lasko. With just under 13 minutes to go in the game, the Georgia lead was just three.
Greene however, responded. The Bulldogs proceeded to march 85 yards in six plays as Greene capped the drive with a 15-yard touchdown pass to Fred Gibson. Florida answered with a field goal, but never saw the ball again.
Perfection No More
Miami was in its first season as a member of the ACC and appeared to be in the midst of winning it. At 6-0 and ranked No. 4 in the country, the Hurricanes were heavy favorites as they arrived in Chapel Hill to take on 3-4 North Carolina.
What many thought would be an easy win for Miami ended up being a 31-28 victory for North Carolina.
Brock Berlin would pass for 338 yards and two touchdowns for Miami. His early touchdown passes to Lance Leggett and Roscoe Parrish gave Miami a 14-7 lead after a quarter.
In the second period however, it was all Tar Heels. After Chad Scott’s touchdown run tied the game, quarterback Darian Durant found Scott Brumett for a scoring strike to give North Carolina a 21-14 lead at the break.
Miami’s Tyrone Moss scored the only touchdown of the third, but the Tar Heels regained the lead less than five minutes into the final period. Scott, who rushed for 175 yards, scored his second touchdown of the night to give North Carolina a 28-21 lead.
With less than three minutes to go, the Hurricanes again drew even on a touchdown run from Devin Hester. A timely stop however, would not be in the cards for the Miami defense.
On the game’s decisive drive, Durant complete each of his four pass attempts as North Carolina reached the Miami 25-yard-line. With just four seconds remaining, Connor Barth knocked through the game-winning 42-yard field goal to complete the upset.
The two top-5 teams from the Sunshine State each went down on the final Saturday in October 2004. The Seminoles and Hurricanes however, weren’t alone.
In Evanston, Northwestern’s Noah Herron scored a last-minute touchdown to lead the Wildcats past No. 17 Purdue, 13-10. In Waco, Shawn Bell’s 2-point conversion pass to Dominique Zeigler served as the walk-off score as Baylor pulled the upset of No. 16 Texas A&M in overtime, 35-34.
Minnesota joined FSU, Miami, Purdue and Texas A&M as ranked teams to lose to unranked opponents that day. The 24th-ranked Golden Gophers let an early 14-0 lead slip away in a 30-21 road loss to an Indiana team that was previously winless in Big Ten play.
While five ranked teams fell victim to unranked opponents on Oct. 30, 2004, a few others narrowly avoided similar fate. Against in-state rival Michigan State, No. 12 Michigan scored 17 unanswered points in the final six and a half minutes to force overtime before prevailing 45-37 in overtime behind a pair of Chad Henne touchdown passes.
Rutgers made a late charge at No. 13 West Virginia before falling short, 35-30. Two days prior, No. 22 Virginia Tech scored 25 fourth-quarter points to turn an 8-point deficit into a 34-20 victory at Georgia Tech.
In the week’s only match-up of ranked teams, a missed 49-yard field goal in the final seconds by Jason Ricks allowed No. 2 Oklahoma to escape 20th-ranked rival Oklahoma State in Stillwater, 38-35.
For FSU and Miami, the losses would prove costly in the ACC race. Miami lost again the following week to Clemson before closing the regular season with a 16-10 home loss to Virginia Tech in what would be a de facto ACC title game.
The defeat at Maryland would cost the Seminoles a share of the conference crown. It would have been FSU’s 12th ACC title in 13 years.
Florida went on to finish strong under Zook. The Gators closed the regular season on a 3-game winning streak, which included a 20-13 victory at FSU. It was Florida’s first win in Tallahassee in 18 years.
The loss to the Gators would be FSU’s lone blemish the rest of the way. The Seminoles closed the year with a Gator Bowl victory over West Virginia and a top-15 finish. Miami ended the year on a high note by beating the Gators in the Peach Bowl, 27-10.
Since that Saturday in 2004, there have been three other occasions where Florida, Florida State and Miami all fell on the same weekend. The most recent was Oct. 10 of last year when all three allowed more than 40 points. After the Gators fell at Texas A&M 41-38, Miami was handled by Clemson 42-17 while FSU was defeated easily by Notre Dame, 42-26.
But for more than a quarter century, Florida, Florida State and Miami were never defeated on the same weekend. That streak came crashing down on the eve of Halloween in 2004.