The No. 16 state ended a three-game losing streak against rivals Florida on Friday night with a dramatic 45-38 win behind quarterback Jordan Travis and a late save in the final minute of the game. Travis played through the air and on the ground all night while the Seminoles defense came up with a fourth stop in the last minute as the crowd at Doak Campbell Stadium reached boiling point.
Gators QB Anthony Richardson’s lift to the end zone went incomplete with 39 seconds remaining, handing the ball down to Florida State and effectively ending the game with the highest scoring in rivalry history. What’s been debated for ages are two games on the final drive, a fourth-and-18-pass interference against FSU that extended Florida’s comeback attempt, and a clear facemask on Richardson that failed during the aforementioned incomplete pass was called.
Richardson threw three touchdowns in the first 21 minutes of the game as the Gators took a 21-14 lead, but the redshirt sophomore later went cold with 11 straight incompletes. The third quarter proved particularly momentous as Florida State forced three straight 3-and-outs against a Florida team that didn’t jab in the first half.
The win is the first in the rivalry for third-year Florida State coach Mike Norvell, and he has Travis to thank for it. The redshirt junior threw for 270 yards and a touchdown and ran for another 83 yards and two more points. Running back Trey Benson added three points for the ‘Noles, who improved to 9-3 with the win.
Travis runs wild
In a game filled with momentum swings and highlight reel plays, Travis’ elusive trajectory stood out on a few occasions. With the Seminoles trailing 21-14 in the second quarter and facing a third and ten from Florida’s 11-yard line, it seemed like Florida would fire Travis on a significant loss. But as Travis retreated 18 yards behind the line of scrimmage, he managed to dodge five different Florida defenders, including a pair that had more than one chance to bring him down. He eventually slid down just before the end zone and scored in the next game.
Then, in the third quarter, Travis repeated the game in an almost identical situation. Faced with a third and 11th from Florida’s 13-yard line, Travis took off and dodged several tacklers before sliding down just short of the goal line. The game gave the Seminoles a first-and-goal and set up a touchdown run from Benson that gave FSU a 31-24 lead.
While Travis completed just 13 of 30 passes, he also got his arm through in a crucial late situation. Travis faced third and sixth games with a 38-tie in the fourth quarter and found Johnny Wilson for a 21-yard completion to extend the drive that led to FSU’s game-winning result.
Closes with a bang
Florida State started 4-0, climbing to 23rd on the AP Top 25 in the process. Then came the need. Amid a poor run with injuries, the ‘Noles lost three straight as the pressure on Norvell began to mount. After back-to-back losses early in his tenure, it seemed they would struggle to make just one bowl game in his third year. But since bye week, which came after a 34-28 loss to Clemson on Oct. 15, the ‘Noles are at a perfect 5-0.
While some of these successes have come with a lightening of schedule, much of it has come in dominating ways. On Friday, FSU’s four-game winning streak saw four wins by 25 or more points. While the run of dominance ended in a close game against the Gators, the Seminoles showed their improvement in a national showpiece berth against a bitter rival. A bowl win gives Florida State its first 10-win win since 2016, Jimbo Fisher’s penultimate year as coach.
Florida wide receivers Ja’Quavion Fraziars, Xzavier Henderson, Justin Shorter, Thai Chiaokhiao-Bowman and Marcus Burke all missed the game through injuries, leaving Richardson with few proven goals in the passing game. In their absence, Richardson only completed passes to three players, with a returning Ricky Pearsall serving as his primary target. The redshirt junior set a new career high for yards-receiving when he caught a 43-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter with 11:35 left. That was Richardson’s final conclusion with 4 minutes left in the game.
Still, the Gators managed to bounce back from a 14-point deficit in the fourth quarter behind a strong running attack. Trevor Etienne totaled 129 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries, including a 45-yard touchdown run that ended the game with 7:41 left. Montrel Johnson Jr. added 85 yards and a score on the floor while Richardson rushed for 41 yards. If the Gators are able to get healthier at receiver for their bowl game, their offense could be far less one-dimensional than it proved for much of Friday’s game.