Date: September 17th, 1988
Location: “Death Valley”; Memorial Stadium, Clemson, SC
Opponent: No. 10 Clemson Tigers
Setting: This was the first ever meeting of top-10 teams in the 46-year history of Death Valley.
Mentality: High Risk = High Reward
Heading into the second week of September, the Seminoles were still licking their wounds from an embarrassing loss against Miami. Florida State head coach Bobby Bowden decided to introduce an outrageously risky play known as “The Puntrooskie” into the team’s preparation for Clemson. Amazingly, that seemed to recharge the team’s spirits and was something that Bowden had learned from graduate assistant Clint Ledbetter, who had used it as a player at Arkansas State.
The week before the game, the team practiced the play daily with the knowledge that Bowden, looking to pull out all the stops, could likely call it at any moment against the Tigers.
FSU placekicker Richie Andrews reminisced on the play and said
“Coach put hours of preparation in each week leading up to game day. We practiced that Puntrooskie all week. There was a real buzz on the sideline because we knew it was going to work. We called Coach “the riverboat gambler” because he knew when to roll the dice. He knew what he was talking about which gave us a lot of confidence in him.”
On his confidence in the eventual success of this trick play, Bowden stated
“We would try it against our own defense and it works. You know at practice, your own defense fell for it, so we felt like we had something good.”
Clemson catches wind
Opponents that faced Bowden were already on high alert for the threat of trick plays, but Clemson had an even greater warning thrown in their direction. Florida State junior defensive back Leroy Butler was so excited about his contribution in the play that he went and told his old high school coach, Corky Rogers, what the Seminoles were preparing for the Tigers.
Butler told Rogers,
“We got some trickery involved and I'm involved in it. It could really be big in the game.”
Rogers, due to his own excitement, went on to tell some of his other former players. Unfortunately, some of them happened to be on Clemson’s current roster, and they told their head coach Danny Ford what they had heard.
The set up
“The tricker is this. You line up in a normal punt formation, then the center instead of snapping it to the punter, he snaps it to the full back, who is about 4 yards behind him,” Bobby Bowden explains. While this occurs, the punter would fake like the snap had soared over his head.
The defenders would then chase up the field, and the back would slip the ball between the legs of one of the linemen.
In explaining the play, Butler said,
“I remember when Coach Bowden and some of the coaches said, ‘if you get the ball you’re going to put it between your legs. We want you to sit there for a couple of seconds and let everybody look at the punter, and then you can just take off.’”
The key: to wait just the right amount of time
Heading into the locker room at half time, the ’Noles trailed the Tigers 14-7. They also trailed in total yardage by a margin of 232-71 and in first downs 10-5. In reality, Florida State was extremely fortunate to only be behind by one touchdown.
In the locker room, Bowden recalls challenging his team and in response he said, “They showed me something, they told me they would fight in a crisis, and keep on fighting.” As the team headed back on the field TE coach Brad Scott remembers the last thing that Bowden said to his players, “hey men, keep your head up,” he said. “We got this, we got the Puntrooskie.”
Fast forward to the start of the second half and Florida State quickly forced the Tigers to punt their possession away. If you followed our countdown closely or simply know what Deion Sanders is capable of, you know what happens next. Prime Time came in hot and took it to the house, leaving Clemson fans shocked and bringing FSU from behind to tie up the game, 14-14. The 74-yard punt return was a turning point in the game for Florida State, but the Seminoles were far from out of the woods just yet.
The teams would go on to trade scores. Florida State would answer first with 8:24 left to go in the third quarter after FSU wide receiver Bruce LaSane beat out Clemson cornerback Donnell Woolford for a gain of 36 yards to the 1. ’Noles RB Dayne Williams would punch it in to give Florida State its first lead of the game, 21-14. With less than four minutes minutes left in the 4th, Clemson fullback Tracy Johnson tied the game once again with a 19-yard TD run.
Heading into what could be considered their last possession of the game, there was only 2:32 left on the clock and Florida State had zero timeouts left. The kick return placed the ’Noles on their own 15 due to a clipping penalty.
1st and 10
FSU tailback Dexter Carter picked up six yards to the 21-yard line.
2nd and 4
Florida state QB Chip Ferguson throws to LaSane, who drops the ball in traffic, no gain.
3rd and 4
1:39 to go, Ferguson loses the ball and Florida State narrowly escapes a Clemson interception.
4th and 4
Bowden makes the call.
The rest is history
With ninety seconds left at fourth and four, the ball was snapped to FSU Dayne Williams, instead of to punter Tim Corlew. Corlew acted as if the ball was snapped out of his reach and Williams walked up and placed the ball between the legs of Butler, who after waiting 1.5 seconds— he was supposed to wait 3— went to the left.
Butler blazed past an unexpecting Clemson team and HC Danny Ford, who jokingly admitted after the game that he wished he had tripped Butler during his run. Clemson’s Woolford finally stopped him right at the 1-yard line and with thirty seconds left, Richie Andrews kicked a 19-yard field goal to seal Florida State’s victory, 24-21.
After the game, Bowden physically reenacted the play in the press conference room. He bent over and placed his arms between his hands to illustrate the hand-off from Williams to Butler. When asked why he called the play, Bowden said, “I wanted somebody to win. We were determined— somebody was going to win that game.”