For only the fourth time in college football history two undefeated teams met in the regular season finale and Florida State tailback Warrick Dunn saved his best for last in leading the second ranked Seminoles to a 24-21 win over top ranked Florida.
With the wind gusting at over 20 mph, FSU used a career high 185 yards rushing by Dunn and a brilliant defense, which registered six quarterback sacks, to run its record to a perfect 11-0 and cash in a ticket to the Sugar Bowl and the national championship game.
Safety Shevin Smith turned in FSU's first big play of the game when he intercepted Danny Wuerffel's pass in the Seminole endzone to kill Florida's first drive of the game. Dunn carried the ball on seven of the Tribe's next 13 plays and FSU drove 72 yards to take the lead on a 26 yard Scott Bentley field goal with 6:25 left in the first quarter.
Florida State's special teams, which had been exceptional all season, set up FSU's first touchdown on UF's next possession. The 'Nole defense smothered three offensive snaps after Bentley's field goal and defensive end Peter Boulware blocked the Gators' punt to set up the offense at Florida's three yard line. Fullback Pooh Bear Williams rambled over for the first of his two touchdowns on the day to give FSU a 10-0 lead.
Another defensive stand and a big pass from Thad Busby to freshman Peter Warrick set up another FSU touchdown just 32 seconds later. After forcing a three and out from the UF offense, Warrick set the Seminoles up at the Florida 39 yard line with a 19 yard punt return. Busby then hit him with a 38 yard bomb which set up a one yard TD pass to Melvin Pearsall on the next play giving FSU a 17-0 lead at the end of the first quarter.
The second quarter gave Florida the wind at its backs and the Gators capitalized, scoring 14 points and missing a potential game tying 53 yard field goal on the last play of the half. Florida took just 20 seconds to cover 62 yards for its first score when Wuerffel hit Jacquez Green from one yard out. Florida's next possession covered 71 yards on six plays and Wuerffel brought his team to within three points at 17-14 when he hit Green with a nine yard scoring pass.
Florida's field goal attempt on the last play of the half sailed wide right and the underdog Seminoles held a slim 17-14 advantage at the half.
FSU could do nothing with the strong wind at its back in the third quarter, but the good news for the Seminoles was that their top ranked defense continued to smother the vaunted Florida offense and neither team could do much with their five possessions.
The record crowd of 80,932 braced for the fourth quarter of the No. 1 vs. No. 2 match up and it would prove to be a nail biter.
After Florida missed a second game tying field goal from 41 yards out with12:03 to play, the Seminoles began an 11 play, 75 yard drive into the wind that would prove to be the game winner. FSU took over on the Gators' 25 and faced a third and six with momentum on the Gators side. Busby, who completed 12 of 32 passes for 124 yards and one touchdown in the game, hit his biggest play of the day when he found Warrick across the middle for a 29 yard gain to keep the drive alive. The Seminoles converted their next third down as well when Dunn raced through the Gators for 18 yards before being knocked out at the one yard line. The last of three straight carries by Williams gave Florida State a 24-14 lead with 7:15 left to play.
Wuerffel, who would finish the day with 362 passing yards (23 of 48) and three touchdowns despite constant pressure from the FSU pass rush, led his team to the 50 on their next drive. But his fourth down pass attempt failed and it set the Seminoles up at midfield. UF allowed just one yard on three snaps and then took over for its last possession at the 20. Florida converted two third downs of its own on an eight play, 80 yard drive that ended when Wuerffel found a leaping Reidel Anthony in the endzone from a yard out to make it 24-21 with 2:28 left.
Florida State never let Florida have the ball back and ran out the clock to preserve its third perfect regular season in school history.