Date: December 5, 2005
Location: Alltel Stadium, Jacksonville, Fla.
Opponent: No. 5 Virginia Tech Hokies
The 2005 season for the Florida State Seminoles was most certainly a mixed bag. The ‘Noles opened the year 5-0, including a 10-7 win in Doak over Miami to end a six-game losing streak in that rivalry. By mid-October, the Seminoles were ranked as high as No. 4 in the AP poll. Things began to come unglued on October 15, when the Seminoles were upset by unranked Virginia in Charlottesville. The Seminoles briefly recovered, bouncing back to beat Duke and Maryland.
November is when the wheels would come off. No, not only would the wheels come off, the entire vehicle would catch fire and drive off a cliff. No. 9 Florida State was upset at home by NC State on November 5. On November 12, No. 17 FSU was embarrassed in Death Valley, losing 35-14 to an unranked Clemson squad. On November 26, No. 23 Florida State was blown out in the Swamp, losing 34-7 to No. 19 Florida and their first-year head coach, Urban Meyer.
The Seminoles, who started the 2005 season 5-0 —and were 7-1 at the end of October—went winless in November and stumbled to a 7-4 regular season record. The three game losing streak was the first for the FSU program since 1983. During that three game losing streak, the ‘Noles were outscored 89-36, leading most FSU fans to call for offensive coordinator Jeff Bowden’s head.
Given the November turmoil, you’d think that late-season losses to Clemson and NC State would have kept FSU out of the Atlantic Division race. However, Clemson finished with four conference losses, and NC State finished with five. With a 5-3 conference record, and a tie-breaking win over first-year ACC member Boston College early in the season, the Seminoles would limp into the inaugural ACC Championship Game as Atlantic Division champions. They would face the Coastal Division champions, No. 5 Virginia Tech, in a rematch of the 2000 Sugar Bowl.
The 11-1 Hokies were a heavy favorite going into this game. With their only blemish being a November 5 home loss to Miami, Virginia Tech still had an outside shot of a national title game appearance. They’d just need to win the ACC title game first.
The first half of the 2005 Dr. Pepper ACC Championship Game was a snoozefest. Both defenses dug in, and both offenses were stymied by penalties. The game was tied 3-3 at halftime.
The second half would be a different story. The third quarter began with a three-yard gain on the ground and two incompletions from Virginia Tech quarterback Marcus Vick. Forced to punt the ball back to FSU, Hokie punter Nic Schmidt stood on his own 34-yard line and booted a 49 yard punt. Senior Florida State punt returner Willie Reid caught the punt at his own 17-yard line, weaved through the Virginia Tech punt coverage and outran a last defender for an 83-yard return to pay dirt. The pro-FSU crowd erupted at the sight of the game’s first touchdown and the first touchdown in ACC Championship Game history. One minute and 14 seconds into the second half, Florida State lead 10-3.
Willie Reid’s punt return would give FSU a spark, and more importantly, a lead it would not relinquish. On the next drive, Pat Watkins intercepted a Marcus Vick pass, leading to FSU drive capped by a 14-yard Leon Washington touchdown scamper. Although the Hokies would mount a late comeback, the Seminoles held on to win the inaugural ACC Championship Game 27-22. Willie Reid was named the MVP of the game, and the Neilsen ratings for the game beat the ratings for the Big 12 and SEC Championship Games.
FSU would represent the ACC in the Orange Bowl against Penn State, while Virginia Tech returned to Jacksonville to play Louisville in the Gator Bowl. Willie Reid also returned a 87-yard punt return for a touchdown in the Orange Bowl, and was named the MVP of that game, despite FSU’s three-overtime loss.
On this night, however, Willie Reid went down in history for scoring the first touchdown in an ACC Championship Game. He was named the first MVP of an ACC Championship Game, and the Seminoles went down in the history books as the first ACC champions determined by the conference game format, while still capturing their 12th ACC title in 14 years of membership.