Date: October 3, 1981
Location: Columbus, Ohio; Ohio Stadium, aka “The Horseshoe” or “The Shoe”
Opponent: No. 7 Ohio State Buckeyes
If you know your FSU history, you’ve surely heard about “Octoberfest,” the five game stretch of 1981 that saw the Seminoles play consecutive road tilts against Nebraska, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, and LSU. The final game of that stretch was already featured in the countdown, with freshman Greg Allen bursting onto the scene in Baton Rouge and setting an FSU rushing record in the process. Today’s play brings us to Ohio State.
A few weeks prior to the LSU matchup, Greg Allen had yet to find his footing for the ‘Noles. In fact, the Seminole legend didn’t have a single carry in this contest. Playing in front of more than 87,000 fans in the fabled Horseshoe (the largest crowd the ‘Noles had ever witnessed up to that point), FSU was instead led by its savvy, senior quarterback, Rick Stockstill, who just happened to be an Ohio native.
Coming off back to back top 5 finishes, but having lost a good amount of talent off the 1980 squad, Florida State began the 1981 season ranked 19th. However, after two hard-fought victories to start the season the Seminoles tumbled out of the top 20 following a 34-14 shellacking from a Nebraska team with revenge on their mind.
Ohio State, meanwhile, opened the season with season with quite a bit of hype and sat at 7th in the country after a 3-0 start that included wins over Michigan State and a Stanford team led by John Elway.
For obvious reasons, FSU were decided underdogs heading into the early fall showdown between the old power and the upstart. But being an underdog typically brought out the best in Bobby Bowden and this Saturday was no different.
After falling behind 7-3 and needing to seize some momentum, Bowden brought the house on an early punt, leading to a block and a touchdown by Ron Hester. From there it was a back and forth affair for the rest of the first half, with neither team able to surge ahead. Florida State took a 23-21 lead into the locker room after a Stockstill TD pass, but it felt tenuous at best.
Midway through the 3rd quarter, Bowden saw an opening. Having driven down inside the redzone, FSU faced a third and six from the Ohio State seven yard line. The safe call is to run up in there and set your kicker up for a chip shot field goal. But that would have only extended the lead to five, and come on—Bobby wasn’t called the River Boat Gambler for nothing.
Trusting his senior QB not to make a critical mistake, Bowden dials up a pass all the way. Stockstill, fondly remembered for his craftiness and playmaking ability, eludes heavy pressure while keeping his eyes downfield. Finally, just before running out of real estate, he fires a bullet to his senior tight end, Sam Childers. Childers, a Tallahassee native, makes an acrobatic catch and extends the ball over the goalline, giving FSU the first two score lead of the game by either team.
The Seminoles would go on to complete the upset 36-27, with the Buckeyes giving up their most points since facing #1 Southern Cal in the 1973 Rose Bowl. Ohio State would go on to be Co-Big Ten champions, ending the year 9-3 and ranked 15th in the AP poll.
The upset jumped FSU back into the top 20 and galvanized the Seminoles to a win over Notre Dame the following week, followed by the aforementioned victory over LSU a couple weeks later. Besieged by injuries and likely worn down from the grueling schedule, FSU would lose its final three games after having risen to as high as 11th in the country. With far fewer bowls during that era, the 6-5 Seminoles were left at home for the holidays—the last year FSU has not played in a bowl game. However, the stirring string of upsets over powerhouse programs, on the road no less, did more for FSU’s image around the nation than any third-tier bowl game could have.
Following his playing days, Stockstill has become a successful college football coach. After assistant jobs at schools like East Carolina, South Carolina, and Clemson, Stockstill took the head coaching position at Middle Tennessee in 2006, where he still coaches today. During his time with the Blue Raiders he’s led them to seven bowl games and is a two-time conference coach of the year.