Date: November 8th, 2012
Location: Lane Stadium, Blacksburg, Virginia
Opponent: Virginia Tech Hokies
Last week, this countdown featured EJ Manuel—injured leg and all—hitting Rashad Greene for the go ahead score in FSU’s gutsy, come-from-behind win against Notre Dame in the 2011 Champs Sports Bowl. That play turned the tide in a game that laid the foundation for a Seminole re-resurgence in 2012.
Two weeks ago we featured EJ Manuel’s picture perfect throw to Rodney Smith that gave FSU its first lead against Clemson in 2012’s wild, top 10 showdown that shifted the balance of power in the ACC Atlantic.
But learning how to win is hard. Despite those two comeback victories, the 2012 version of the Florida State Seminoles had not yet matured into the devastating ball of fury that would dominate college football in 2013.
One of the steps still needing to be taken was demonstrating resolve and grit on the road in a hostile environment. Two weeks after the thrilling victory over Clemson, FSU went ultra-conservative in the second half up in Carter-Finley and squandered a 16-0 halftime lead against NC State. Sure, the ‘Noles rebounded to beat an average Miami Hurricanes team in Doak South, but as the name indicates, that’s been more like a semi-home game for FSU than a true road game—at least for the last dozen years.
Enter the Sandman.
Victors in four consecutive games since the debacle in Raleigh, FSU traveled up to Blacksburg, Virginia on a cold, November night with the #8 AP ranking next to their name and a target square on their backs. And with Clemson blowing out five straight opponents since their loss in Tallahassee, the Seminoles could ill-afford a classic Thursday night slip up if they wanted to maintain control of the division.
The game began as a defensive struggle, with the teams tied at 3 after the first quarter. FSU might have been led by a senior quarterback, but the many of their major contributors were still freshmen and sophomores and it seemed as if the primetime stage might have rattled them. Dustin Hopkins gave FSU a 6-3 lead early in the second quarter, but Logan Thomas—9-1 as a starter at home going into that game—gave Virginia Tech a 10-6 lead with a couple minutes to go in the half.
However, FSU seized the momentum right back as Manuel hit Greene in stride on a picture perfect 25-yard pass in the corner of the endzone with 48 seconds remaining in the half. As it turns out, this would foreshadow the end of the next half.
Coming out of half, EJ found Greg Dent for a score and FSU appeared to be taking control. But the Hokies aren’t quitters. Battling from behind the entire second half, VT grabbed a 22-20 lead on a chip-shot field goal with 2:19 left in the game (it should be noted that a fantastic goal line stand prevented the Hokies from taking a 6, or potentially 7, point lead).
Undaunted, and aided by a punishing run from James Wilder, Jr. on 4th and 1, EJ led the Garnet and Gold to just across mid-field with about a minute to go and it seemed like Hopkins would be called upon for a last second field goal. Alas, his golden shoes were not needed.
Looking to his left, Manuel threw underneath to Greene, allowing him to run-after-the-catch. From there, Manuel became a spectator like everyone else and watched Greene do what he did best during his time at FSU: make a big play in the biggest moments.
Greene, a sophomore at the time, made the catch, sprinted by the linebacker futilely attempting to cover him, and then outraced a handful of other Hokies into the same corner of the endzone in which he finished the first half. The 39-yard score gave FSU a 26-22 lead with 40 seconds left in the game, which would become 28-22 after a two-point conversation from Manuel to Nick O’Leary. Virginia Tech would make one last effort, but another sophomore, Tyler Hunter, sealed the game with an interception, leaving Hokie fans crying in the stands.
Manuel finished the night with 326 yards and 3 TDs against just 1 interception, despite an anemic ground game that saw FSU held to negative 15 yards for the game. Greene led FSU with 6 catches for 125 yards and the two TDs at the end of each half.
The win moved FSU to a 9-1 record for the first time since 2000 and all but wrapped up the division title.
Battling injuries throughout his career, Manuel’s senior season catapulted FSU back into the national spotlight after years of wandering through the wilderness. Part of the Heisman conversation for much of 2012, EJ finished the year with 3,397 yards (4th best season total in FSU history) passing on 68% accuracy with 23 TDs through the air, plus another 4 TDs and 310 yards rushing. To this day, he ranks 4th all-time in the ACC with a career 66.9% completion rate and his more than 7,700 career passing yards place him 4th all-time at FSU.
After the 2012 season, The Buffalo Bills made Manuel the 16th pick of the 2013 NFL draft and he’s currently playing for the Oakland Raiders. The Virginia Beach native may not have hoisted a national championship trophy, but his exploits on the field helped breathe life back into a once-proud program, while his maturity off the field continue to make him a fine representative of Florida State University.