Date: November 21, 1998
Location: Doak S. Campbell Stadium, Tallahassee, Fla.
Opponent: No. 4 Florida Gators
The Florida State Seminoles entered the 1998 season ranked No. 2 in the country and were considered by most to be a legitimate title contender. They opened the season defeating the No. 14 Texas A&M Aggies at the Meadowlands, but followed up that performance with an atrocious 24-7 loss to NC State in Raleigh. Just two weeks in, the ‘Noles fell out of the AP Top Ten.
Led by 26-year-old QB Chris Weinke, FSU then ran off a string of seven straight victories over Duke, Southern Cal, Maryland, Miami, Clemson, Georgia Tech, and North Carolina. Entering November, the 8-1 ‘Noles had climbed back up to No. 6 in the AP. They had two ranked opponents — Virginia and Florida — remaining on their schedule, with a trip to WInston-Salem sandwiched in the middle. The ‘Noles still had a legitimate shot at a berth in the inaugural BCS National Championship Game.
Then disaster struck. On the last play of the first half against No. 12 Virginia, Chris Weinke was sacked by Patrick Kerney and sustained a season-ending neck injury. Suddenly, Florida State’s championship hopes rode on the arm of “The Rooster,” a former fourth-stringer from nearby Fort Walton Beach who put the “red” in redshirt-sophomore. Prior to his emergency appearance against Virginia, Outzen had thrown a grand total of 13 passes in his FSU career.
The ‘Noles finished off Virginia 45-14, but the offense struggled against Wake Forest the next week. FSU ultimately pulled out a 24-7 win, but the game was much closer than the final score indicated. The No. 5 ‘Noles were 10-1 but were a home underdog for the final regular season game against No. 4 Florida. The FSU faithful, riding a 39 home unbeaten streak, were nervous to say the least.
Of course, this wouldn’t be a proper chapter in the Florida State-Florida rivalry without a pregame altercation setting the tone. During the pregame warmups, a group of Florida players stomped on the Seminole logo at midfield. Nearby FSU players did not appreciate that gesture, and a melee ensued. Florida’s starting cornerback Tony George was ejected by the ACC crew, a big loss. During the scrum, UF’s starting QB Doug Johnson allegedly hurled a football near the direction of Bobby Bowden.
The supposedly high-powered Gator offense scored all of their points in the first half, including only a 50-yard bomb from Johnson to Travis McGriff after FSU CB Tay Cody fell down. The Gators added a safety when Outzen was sacked in the endzone, and a late field goal, but Janikowski countered by converting two field goals of his own. Florida led at halftime 12-6. Over the last ten meetings between Florida State and Florida, the team that led at halftime won nine.
The ‘Noles came out on fire to open the second half. Riding RB Travis Minor, FSU’s offense quickly moved the ball into Gator territory. On first-and-ten from the UF 32, Outzen took the snap under center, rolled out to his left, and released a ball intended for Peter Warrick. The Rooster apparently didn’t see Florida’s Marquand Manuel standing directly between him and Warrick. Manuel stepped right in front of the ill-advised pass as though it was intended for him. All Manuel had to do was ensure he caught the ball, and he had wide open green space for a 75 yard interception return and a likely dagger to the Seminoles.
Instead, the ball deflected off his hands and miraculously landed right in the bread basket of Peter Warrick. Doing what he did best, Warrick juked to the inside, then cut back outside, leaving CB Benny Alexander in a cloud of dust. Five yards from the endzone, P-Dub picked up an incredible block from Snoop Minnis and danced into paydirt.
The result of the deflection was a huge 14-point swing in the direction of the good guys. In that moment, the collective emotion inside Doak Campbell went from pure horror to pure jubiliation in a millisecond. A play that seemed so certain to end nightmarishly ended blissfully, almost as if designed that way. The Doak Campbell crowd was losing its mind when Peter Warrick strode into the endzone. Many of those Seminole faithful in the stands that night still say that was the loudest moment they experienced in Doak. You can see the pandimonium that ensues in the student section on the ABC broadcast.
As a result of the improbable touchdown and extra point, FSU grabbed the lead for the first and final time in the game. The Seminole defense pitched a second half shutout, and Peter Warrick added another touchdown through the air early in the fourth quarter to ensure Steve Spurrier never won a game in Tallahassee as the head coach of the Florida Gators. The ‘Noles extended their home unbeaten streak to 40 games by a final of 23-12. Outzen finished the game going 13-22 for 213 yards, one touchdown, and zero interceptions. Gator QB Doug Johnson was intercepted three times by the FSU defense.
Florida State finished the season 11-1 and earned a berth in the inaugural BCS Championship Game. The most memorable play in Marcus Outzen’s unexpected Seminole career wasn’t pretty, but it ended up being beautiful. The magical Outzen to Warrick deflection was one of the most incredible plays in the Florida State-Florida rivalry, and made our cut for the No. 8 play in FSU football history.