It’ll be a while before fans of Florida State football forget the 2010 Gator Bowl; you just can’t write many things as well as the circumstances surrounding legendary Seminoles head coach Bobby Bowden’s final game. The contest took place in Jacksonville, just down I-10 from Tallahassee. The opponent, West Virginia, was the program that gave Bowden his first major head coaching job. Bowden himself planted the spear prior to kickoff. And, of course, the ’Noles sent Bowden out a winner.
But had it not been for the play featured in today’s installment to our countdown, it’s unlikely that any of it would have ever happened. FSU entered its 2009 home finale against Maryland at 5-5 and with a road trip to face the No. 1 Florida Gators a week away. For a season that had long since seen any national or conference title hopes erased, the stakes were still quite significant: the ’Noles needed to win in order to have to avoid that task in Gainesville (where they’d be blown out, ultimately). A loss would have ended the Seminoles’ streak of bowl appearances, non-losing records, and punctuated Bowden’s slate in Tallahassee with a defeat.
And it was mere minutes away from happening.
After getting off to a solid 14-3 lead in the second quarter, FSU squandered its advantage, and the Terrapins came back to go up 26-22 with 4:29 left. An E.J. Manuel interception on the succeeding Seminole drive looked for the world to have been the final nail in Florida State’s coffin, but the ’Nole defense forced a three and out. Still, the Terps were punting from near midfield with just 2:03 remaining and looking to pin FSU deep.
This would force Manuel, who’d thrown dreadfully in tossing three picks without a touchdown, into driving near the length of the field, as three points meant nothing. And it was an impressive punt for UMD, pushing the ’Nole returner back to his own 8, near the sideline. However, it really needed to be kicked out of bounds, because that returner was Greg Reid.
Reid catches the ball and has to immediately make a man miss. Then he does just what Maryland figures him to do, heading toward the open real estate on the wide side of the field. But seeing that the pursuit is angling toward that area as well, he angles back to the near sideline, breaking a couple of tackles, where Seminole blockers have set up a wall. The rest is all speed, as Reid takes the ball back across the 50 to provide the Seminole offense with a manageable field. Just like he said he would.
“I told E.J. before I would set him up for good field position and all you’ve got to do is finish the game,” Reid said. “Everything worked out.” Manuel used his legs to position FSU for the winning score, which Lonnie Pryor earned on a three-yard run with 32 seconds left. The final: 29-26, Florida State. Reid’s heroics (he returned three punts in the game for a total of 88 yards, a 29.3 YPR average) helped the Seminoles avoid an ugly finish to Bowden’s career in Tallahassee.
Well, excepting those uniforms.
Thanks to Reid, FSU’s bowl streak, the longest in college football history, remains intact, at 36 straight, as does the Seminoles’ mark of 41 consecutive seasons without a losing record.