Photo courtesy of Florida State Sports Information
Legendary Florida State head coach Bobby Bowden earned the nickname, “King of the Road” early during his tenure in Tallahassee.
Bowden earned that nickname after taking his Seminoles to hostile environments and beating highly-ranked teams. On this day 40 years ago however, FSU had a top-5 team in its own building and it took advantage with a 36-22 victory over Pittsburgh.
Setting the Stage
FSU was one week removed from a signature win at No. 3 Nebraska. The Seminoles were 4-1 and ranked No. 11 as they returned to Doak Campbell Stadium on Oct. 11, 1980 to take on No. 4 Pittsburgh.
The Panthers were 4-0 and led by a nasty defense. With names such as Hugh Green, Rickey Jackson and Tim Lewis, Pittsburgh had allowed just 20 total points through four games. FSU would easily eclipse that margin.
FSU Catches Fire
The game was less than three minutes old when Pittsburgh drew first blood. Dan Marino’s 39-yard touchdown pass to Dwight Collins gave the Panthers an early 7-0 lead, but that would be Pittsburgh’s only points of the first half.
FSU responded with 23 straight points. Standout kicker Bill Capece made three first-half field goals for FSU while quarterback Rick Stockstill threw touchdown passes to Hardis Johnson and Sam Childers in the second quarter.
FSU led 23-7 at the break, but by the start of the fourth quarter, Pittsburgh was within a touchdown.
Marino Rallies Pitt
As was the case in the first half, the Panthers found the end zone very early in the second half. Marino and Collins hooked up for another touchdown — this one 36 yards. Marino found tight end Benjie Pryor for the 2-point conversion to pull the Panthers to within eight at 23-15 with more than 13 minutes to play in the third.
All day however, the Seminoles had an answer. A time-consuming ensuing drive and a big punt return led to two more Capece field goals as FSU was up two touchdowns again, 29-15. With less than a minute to play in the third quarter, Pitt’s Joe McCall scored from two yards out to cut the lead back to seven.
FSU Pulls Through
Marino and Pittsburgh would get the ball back early in the fourth, but a fumble proved costly. On a pitch to McCall, the Panthers put the ball on the ground and the Seminoles recovered.
With the ball inside the Pittsburgh 30, it took FSU just five plays to answer. Stockstill’s third touchdown pass of the day — a 13-yard scoring strike to Kurt Unglaub — capped the scoring. The FSU defense did the rest.
After forcing a punt on Pittsburgh’s next possession, safety Monk Bonasorte intercepted Marino to help put the game away. Marino passed for 300 yards, but the FSU defense intercepted him three times. Keith Jones and Bobby Butler also came away with interceptions for the Seminoles. Ron Hester led FSU with 13 tackles, including two for loss, and two fumble recoveries.
In total, Pittsburgh turned the ball over seven times. FSU did not turn the ball over in the victory.
Stockstill finished just 10-for-20 passing for 127 yards in the win, but three completions went for scores. Sam Platt rushed for 123 yards for the Seminoles in the victory.
FSU improved to 5-1 with the win and went on to win its final five regular season games. The Seminoles ascended to No. 3 in the polls before falling to Oklahoma in an Orange Bowl heartbreaker to end the season, 18-17.
Jackie Sherrill’s Pittsburgh team would not lose again. In fact, it played just one game decided by fewer than 18 points the rest of the way. The Panthers would cap the year with an 11-1 record and No. 2 national ranking.
Pittsburgh finished behind Georgia in the final polls in 1980, but would have likely claimed a national championship had it not been for a loss in Tallahassee. That defeat took place on this day four decades ago.