They remember it like it was yesterday.
4th and 2, first down. 4th and 10, first down. 4th and Goal, touchdown.
"We didn't finish, just kind of relaxed", said defensive lineman Eddie Goldman.
NC State, an unranked, seemingly overmatched foe, rallied from a 16-0 halftime deficit to stun then #3 ranked Florida State. Goldman, a freshman that season, played about ten snaps that night against the Wolfpack.
"Locker room was dead silent," Goldman said. "There was a lot of regret, a lot of disappointment."
The loss to the the Wolfpack seemed so shocking yet so eerily familiar, so eerily fitting. After all, FSU had become known around the college football world for losing to inferior opponents, teams they were heavily favored to beat. Losses like those to USF and Boston College in 2009, North Carolina and NC State in 2010, Wake Forest and Virginia in 2011. It had become almost like tradition, an expectation that the Noles would slip up against an underdog foe.
For much of the current Seminole roster, that 2012 season was a chance to gain experience, to learn from the upperclassmen on that squad. Little did they know, they would learn a lesson that would re-shape the very program they had committed their college careers to play for.
"We found out name alone can't carry us" running back Karlos Williams said. "We played to not lose. We didn't play to win."
Williams, a Sophomore that season, felt like that game challenged Florida State to never relax, to always keep the foot on the gas pedal.
"We learned you have to play the game for an entire 60 minutes," Williams said. "We changed as a program that night."
Since that October night in Raleigh, Florida State has a record of 24-1, including rattling off a program best 19 straight wins. It's an amazing stat, one that Head Coach Jimbo Fisher attributes to his program learning the importance of finishing games that night.
"It was very tough, very frustrating, and very point blank," Fisher said. "It was another thing we had to go through to make us the team we are now."
Fisher also believes that the game against NC State that night helped mold the Noles into the team capable of grinding out grueling games. Games in which they needed to muster every ounce of his signature "love, trust, and belief in each other" line to come up victorious. Games like like Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech in that same 2012 season, Boston College and Auburn in the 2013 title season, as well Oklahoma State and Clemson this season. The heartbreak felt in that loss to NC State provided a newfound spark to the Florida State program, one flickering still today.
"We're practicing hard this week to make sure we don't ever have anything close to an issue like that again," linebacker Reggie Northrup said.
As Florida State travels to Carter-Finley stadium, where they have lost three of the last four games, they go with a reinvigorated level of confidence, a level of maturity. That cold night in Raleigh taught the Noles about the dangers of complacency and how every game must be played to the final snap. It's what helped win them the National Title against Auburn, what helped them overcome adversity against Clemson the other night. The players are determined to never allow that empty feeling to return and as they run out of the tunnel again Saturday in Raleigh, they do so with a seasoned awareness.
"It was a bad memory," Northrup said. "But we aren't going let that happen again."