Date: January 2, 1989
Location: Sugar Bowl, Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans, Louisiana
Opponent: No. 7 Auburn Tigers
Each team went 10-1 in the regular season, missing out on the national championship game because of their respective losses, the Tigers to LSU by one point, 7-6 and Florida State in their opening game against Miami, 31-0.
The two teams had been accustomed to each other over the last few years, playing four times from 1983-1987. After winning the first three matches the Tigers had been embarrassed, 34-6, in Jordan-Hare Stadium by Florida State the previous season, adding a little bit more intrigue into an already high-stakes game.
Heading into the contest, Auburn had the best defense in the country giving up just 7.2 points per game. They were led by Tracy Rocker, who won the Outland Trophy and the Lombardi Award that season. The FSU offense on the other hand was averaging 40 points a game (fifth in the country) and showcased a Bowden-led team that embodied the high-risk=high-reward philosophy. Florida State’s Deion Sanders had won the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back that season, and also led the country in punt returns.
FSU’s opening 84-yard touchdown drive looked promising for the ’Noles, but the rest of the night was riddled with mistakes on both sides. The Tigers turned the ball over four times in the first half alone and committed costly personal fouls. The Seminoles responded by only capitalizing on the turnovers with a pair of field goals jumping ahead 13-0. In the late second quarter, Auburn quarterback Reggie Slack connected with tight end Walter Reeves after Sanders followed a fake pitch and left his zone uncovered. Sanders recovered in time only to be carried across the goal line allowing Auburn to record their first points on the board.
The second half was scoreless. The Tigers trailed 13-7, but FSU continued to make errors. During the third quarter Florida State had a 69-yard touchdown pass called back for holding and in the fourth, the Seminoles lost another scoring chance when they fumbled and lost the ball on third-and-goal from the 1.
In an interview a few weeks before the game, Deion Sanders speculated about the bowl game, saying “It’s going to be close, it’s going to come right down to the end. I see a big play by Prime Time making the difference.”
That. It. Did.
As the Tigers looked to score in the last five seconds of the game on what would have been a game winning touchdown, Sanders intercepted the pass Slack intended for Auburn wide receiver Lawyer Tillman and sealed the win for the Seminoles.
In post-game interviews, the three reflected on the final play of the game:
“I shook Deion at the line of scrimmage,” Tillman said. “I thought I left him behind.”
“I thought it was six points,” Slack said. “To be honest, I was stunned.”
“I was tired from being on the field so long,” Sanders said, “but there is no quarterback who can pick on me.”
For the second time in as many seasons, Sanders picked off an Auburn quarterback in the fourth quarter, and Prime Time finished his Seminole career on the perfect note.