Date: November 29th, 2003
Location: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium - Gainesville, Florida
Opponent: Florida Gators
The 2003 Florida State football season took a wild roller coaster ride through November, with one of the most up-and-down and at times surreal games in the UF-FSU rivalry culminating in unforgettable fashion. In a game filled with big plays by superstars on both sides, only fitting that an unsung hero would emerge to play a key role in the Nole triumph.
Dominic Robinson arrived in Tallahassee in 2001 in the midst of Movement 1.0 of the #WestCoastNoles phenomenon. Flanked by Californians Travis Johnson & Chris Rix in 2000, and super recruit Lorenzo Booker the following year, Robinson was propped up with unrealistic expectations from Day 1. With practice report comparisons to Prime Time Deion Sanders, the Diamond Bar, California product was expected to make an immediate impact at cornerback and special teams following a stellar 2-way career in high school.
While serving as the team’s primary punt returner as a true freshman, the hype on defense never clicked, and Robinson flipped sides of the field in 2002 to help the team at receiver. The team-first move of switching positions is less of no-brainer nowadays than it was a mere 15 seasons ago. In 2018, a stud athlete buried on a depth chart 2,300 miles from home might transfer schools without much hesitation. But not Dominic Robinson, who changed from jersey #31 to #83 to his eventual #21 for the 2003 season.
The Seminoles experienced only one blemish in their first 2 months of 2003, a cold, painful, rainy loss at home to Miami. However, national championship hopes were still alive on the NFL-laden squad. With Sims, Bunkley, Wimbley, Dockett, Watkins, Pope, Boulware and Cromartie among the jersey names, the dreams unraveled as #3 FSU couldn’t handle Death Valley and Tommy Bowden. The following week, the Noles clinched the ACC championship with a thrilling 50-44 win over Philips Rivers’ NC State Wolfpack in overtime. But the conference title came at a heavy cost, as stud receiver Craphonso Thorpe’s banner season(994 yards & 11 TD’s) was cut short prior to the winning Leon Washington score.
Enter Dominic Robinson. Making his first career start at Florida State at any offensive or defensive position, the junior receiver notched FSU’s first TD in Gainesville with a sliding 35-yard TD in the back of the endzone with a strikingly similar catch to a familiar non-catch in the Countdown.
In a game that featured a number of controversial calls, non-calls, and pre-replay non-reversible calls that seemed to hurt the home team(by coincidence), UF cried foul and demanded ACC officials never call games in the Swamp again. It also marked the last time ANYBODY thought ACC ref Jackie Childress wanted FSU to win anything.
The teams traded the lead or tied the score a combined 7 times in the 2nd half. With 2:50 left in the 4th, the Gators went ahead 31-27 on a deep strike from Chris Leak to freakazoid college tight end Ben Troupe. The Noles’ subsequent drive was the ultimate microcosm of Chris Rix’s career. After Lorenzo Booker was shoe string tackled on 1st down, Rix plain dropped the 2nd down shotgun snap and nearly lost the game. On 3rd down, he barely overthrew an open PK Sam streaking behind the UF secondary(foreshadowing alert). Bobby Bowden chose not to use his last timeout as 4th and 14 ensued from his own 24 yard line. With the home crowd whipping into an all too familiar frenzy, Rix received the play call from coordinator Jeff Bowden, and lined up the offense with shockingly calm and deliberate confidence.
The author was sitting high in the endzone behind the offense, and that tense 4th down play clock countdown seemed to last 10 minutes and take a couple years off your life. The ball snapped with 2 seconds showing. With PK Sam clearing out the middle from the slot, Robinson ran a deep square-in from left sideline into the Gator zone secondary. What happened next was nothing short of beautiful:
Ball in Chest.
Crushing Safety Hit.
Robinson topped 100-yards on that game saving clutch grab. He knew he was going to be punished and hung on.
There may be another play later in the sequence that scores higher on the Top 100 Countdown. ::cough cough::
But today we celebrate the invaluable role player that made the win possible. Go team.