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Florida State Wins Fight to the Finish

Sam's 52-yard touchdown reception with 55 seconds left gives the Seminoles their fifth victory in six games against rival Gators.

November 30, 2003|From Associated Press

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — They played for 3 1/2 hours and brawled for a few minutes more.

All the good and bad college football had to offer was on display Saturday at the Swamp. When it was over, No. 9 Florida State walked away with the 38-34 victory and No. 11 Florida left crestfallen.

P.K. Sam will go down in history for the twisting, whirling, falling-down pass route he ran to make the game-winning, 52-yard touchdown catch with 55 seconds left.

The game, however, will be remembered for much more -- including a postgame melee at midfield that police used pepper spray to break up and a series of questionable officials' calls that will have Gator fans howling for years.

Florida State (10-2) reached 10 victories for the first time since 2000. Florida (8-4) had its five-game winning streak halted, along with its slim hopes of making it to the Southeastern Conference title game.

Neither team will forget this classic soon.

"It's my 28th game playing the University of Florida, and I don't think I've seen a better one than that," Seminole Coach Bobby Bowden said.

Sam's touchdown catch might have been the play of the year for Florida State, which has won five of six against its bitter rival.

Sam turned to his right at about the 20, but didn't see Chris Rix's high, hanging pass. So, Sam spun left, spotted the ball, then pushed right against Florida defender Guss Scott in the end zone, where he made the catch while falling backward. It was Rix's third touchdown pass. He also ran for a score and improved to 2-1 against the Gators.

"I think [defensive backs] kind of give up after about 40 yards," Sam said. "I looked up, the ball was in the air. I was like, 'Please catch this,' and I held on and that was it."

The lead changed hands four times in the fourth quarter. With 2:55 left, Florida went ahead, 34-31, on Ben Troupe's 26-yard touchdown catch from Chris Leak in the back of the end zone. Troupe got one foot down; the official stared hard at the play, and initially brought his arms to the side, as though he were going to call it incomplete.

But he raised his hands to signal a touchdown, one of the few calls that went Florida's way in a game that will surely not grade out well for referee Jack Childress' Atlantic Coast Conference officiating crew.

The crew made at least three questionable calls on fumbles -- calling players down when they weren't or vice versa -- and blew at least two more, including giving Seminole tailback Leon Washington credit for a fumble recovery near the Florida goal line even though Crowder sprinted out of the pile with the ball.

Crowder spiked the ball and drew a personal foul while many in the crowd chanted obscenities at the refs.

Bowden played it coy when asked about the calls.

"I sure do like them when they go to me," he said.

Zook and Foley took the high road, but a handful of the Gators weren't so gracious.

The referees left the field with a police escort, and debris rained down.

"They deserved it. They called a bad game," Florida offensive lineman Shannon Snell said.

The Seminoles beat a ranked opponent for the first time this season. The Gators, meanwhile, are expected to play in the Peach Bowl in Atlanta on Jan. 2.

Rix threw for 256 yards and Dominic Robinson caught five passes for 102 yards. Leak threw for 273 yards.

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