Photo courtesy of Garnet and Great/Florida State football archivist
From 1990 to 2000, every matchup between Florida and Florida State featured a pair of top-10 teams. The only meeting as No. 1 and No. 2 however, came on this day 25 years ago.
In Tallahassee, a strong start was the difference for the hometown Seminoles. As a home underdog, FSU held off top-ranked Florida, 24-21.
Setting the Stage
Florida State had not lost at Doak Campbell Stadium in more than five years as it arrived on Nov. 30, 1996. Over that stretch, the lone blemish was a tie against Florida in 1994. In that contest, FSU overcame a 31-3 deficit to force a 31-31 tie.
Like FSU, top-ranked Florida arrived with a record of 10-0. The Gators had defeated FSU in Gainesville the previous season and were looking for their first win in Tallahassee in a decade.
The Sunshine State showdown would be a meeting of the unstoppable force against the immovable object. For the season, FSU allowed less than 15 points per game. Florida, on the other hand, scored more points than any team in the nation.
Florida looked as though it would set the tone as it marched into FSU territory on the opening march. An interception of quarterback Danny Wuerffel by FSU safety Shevin Smith in the end zone, however, would thwart that opportunity.
The pick would set up a Scott Bentley field goal and jumpstart the Seminoles. After blocking a punt on the next Florida possession, FSU fullback Pooh Bear Williams rumbled in for the game’s first touchdown.
The next Florida drive resulted in a punt. Following a nice return from Peter Warrick, it took FSU just two plays to find the end zone. On the first play of the drive, quarterback Thad Busby hit Warrick for 38 yards. On the next, he found tight end Melvin Pearsall for a 1-yard score.
Before a quarter was in the books, FSU led 17-0. The Gators however, refused to go quietly.
A pair of second-quarter touchdown passes from Wuerffel to Jacquez Green cut the lead to three. An interception by Samari Rolle and a missed 53-yard field goal attempt by Bart Edmiston allowed the Seminoles to keep the lead.
The first five possessions of the scoreless third quarter resulted in 3-and-outs, but Florida had a chance to draw even early in the fourth. Edmiston’s 41-yard field goal attempt however, sailed wide. The Florida kicker actually injured his foot kicking the ground following the miss.
After two scoreless quarters, the Seminoles put together an impressive 11-play, 75-yard drive. A 29-yard completion from Busby to Warrick and an 18-yard run by Warrick Dunn — both on third down — highlighted the march. Williams’ second touchdown pushed the lead back to 10.
Florida would find the end zone with 1:19 to play as Wuerffel hit Reidel Anthony for a 2-yard score. Following an failed onside kick, Dunn’s 14-yard run put the contest away.
Florida finished with 443 yards of offense to 317 for FSU, but three interceptions and six sacks from the Seminoles on defense would prove huge. In addition to Smith and Rolle, Henri Crockett also had an interception for the FSU defense. Andre Wadsworth led the way with two sacks.
Dunn had a monster day on the ground, finishing with 185 yards rushing on Senior Day in Tallahassee. Wuerffel, the eventual Heisman Trophy winner, passed for 362 yards in the loss. Anthony led all receivers with 11 catches for 193 yards. Warrick led FSU with three catches for 70 yards.
The victory seemed to be put FSU on course for a national championship, but it would be Florida that would have the last laugh. After beating Alabama, the Gators ascended to No. 3 and were able to get a rematch against Florida State. One day after No. 2 Arizona State fell to Ohio State in the Rose Bowl, Florida blasted FSU in the rematch, 52-20.
Florida was able to capture its first national championship. What it wasn’t able to do was beat the Seminoles in Tallahassee. That memorable contest came on this day a quarter-century ago.