The year was 1993 and the already anointed "best team in the land" was at a potential bump in the road. Heisman front runner Charlie Ward was injured the week prior and Florida State would be traveling to College Park, Maryland to take on the pesky Maryland Terrapins with back-up Danny Kanell getting his first career start. Sure, the Terps were 1-7 coming into the game, but the Maryland offense had put up some big numbers earlier in the year and the Nole faithful, still sporting open wounds from the near misses of the previous years, was convinced the football gods had done them in again. Then a funny thing happened: Kanell went 28-38 for 341 yards, threw five touchdown passes (the single-game high during the 1993 season), zero interceptions, and the beat went on. Which was needed too, as Maryland piled up 20 points and 6.4 yards per play against the nation's number one defense.
Many were relieved, but for some this wasn't the first time they had seen a backup save the day. Five years earlier, in the infancy of a dynasty that folks hadn't even dreamed of yet, Florida State traveled to Columbia, South Carolina to take on the No. 15 ranked South Carolina Gamecocks. South Carolina was 7-1 entering the game and had already upended a top 10 UGA team at home earlier that season. Florida State had won seven straight after opening the season with a 31-0 throttling at the hands of Miami, but now entered the contest with little used back-up Peter Tom Willis filling in for Chip Ferguson, who had been injured the week prior. Many predicted a loss, but apparently Peter Tom didn't get the memo. The junior threw a 44 yard touchdown pass on the Noles opening possession and never looked back, finishing 17-20 for 271 yards and four touchdowns in just three quarters of work, as FSU whitewashed the Gamecocks 59-0.
Perhaps the most famous "back-up" game in Seminole history was started by "The Rooster" in 1998. FSU, a team bursting at the seams with talent, was replacing injured first-year starter Chris Weinke (himself a back-up prior to the season) with walk-on Marcus Outzen with the fourth-ranked Florida Gators coming to town. The Gators, 9-1 on the season, were simply loaded on defense and many feared that FSU would get run out of its own house. Alas, Marcus managed the game well, going 13-22 for 167 yards with one TD and zero interceptions (Peter Warrick also threw a TD in the game) and FSU prevailed 23-12 in one of the most memorable games in the FSU/UF rivalry.
Over the years, FSU has often performed at its best when their backs were seemingly against the wall. These three anecdotes from my lifetime represent just a few of the games where backups came in and exceeded expectations of nearly everyone in the stadium. When you walk into Doak Campbell on Saturday night, remember that we are the Florida State Seminoles. Remember our Unconquered spirit. And who knows, maybe Sean Maguire is the next Peter Tom Willis?
What are some other games in 'Nole history where you remember a back-up coming in a lighting up the scoreboard?