Date: October 4, 1980
Location: Memorial Stadium; Lincoln, Nebraska
Opponent: No. 3 Nebraska Cornhuskers
We’ve arrived. The countdown that started three months ago has reached the top 10 plays in Florida State football history. When we began this countdown, we outlined four factors that would guide our ranking of each play. The first factor listed is as follows: How significant was the play to the program— did it change the direction of FSU football? No play on this list answers that question more emphatically than this one.
The 1980 season was, by any definition, a banner year for FSU. Coming off an 11-1 season in 1979, Florida State spent every single week in the national rankings, with all but three weeks inside the top 10. Monk Bonasorte and Keith Jones helped FSU defeat UF for the fourth consecutive season. And the Seminoles blitzed Dan Marino and the Pitt Panthers for a dominating home win over a legendary opponent. But none of those games featured the truly landmark play that has lived on in Seminole lore.
For whatever reason—call it fate, coincidence, or dumb luck—Nebraska seems to be intertwined in Florida State’s origin story. It was the Cornhuskers on the losing end of the game that started FSU’s Dynasty. It was the Cornhuskers that watched Scott Bentley exorcise garnet and gold field goal demons to give FSU its first national title. And it’s the Cornhuskers that brought Florida State into the national spotlight for college football.
On a picture perfect October afternoon Florida State squared off for the first time ever against Nebraska, one of the blue bloods of the sport. The Seminoles couldn’t get marquee programs to travel to Tallahassee in that era, so the soon-to-be King of the Road signed his men up for a four-game series with the Cornhuskers—with all four games to be played in Lincoln.
Tom Osborne’s 1980 team was loaded, headlined by a Heisman candidate at running back, Jarvis Redwine. In fact, coming into the game Nebraska led the nation in total offense, rushing offense, and scoring offense. Much to the delight of the partisan crowd, NU predictably jumped out to a 14-3 halftime lead. Everything was going to script.
Bobby Bowden never did seem to be too fond of scripts.
Probably the most underrated unit in FSU history is the 1980 defense. Led by Ron Simmons, the 1980 was a swarming, overwhelming, relentless unit. They allowed 85 points over the entire regular season, including only two rushing touchdowns. Two. But my favorite stat about the 1980 defense, indeed it might be my favorite FSU stat period, is that during the regular season they did not allow a single point during the 4th quarter. Yes, you read that correctly. Regular season opponents scored zero 4th quarter points.
Unfortunately for the more than 76,000 making up the famed Sea of Red, on this day FSU’s shutout extended into the third quarter as well.
Florida State opened the second half with a Bill Capece field goal, making the score 14-6. On the ensuing possession, Keith Jones picked off a Cornhusker pass and running back Sam Platt would soon make it 14-12. Check out the interception and Jones’ comment on the play here:
A few minutes later, FSU’s defense annihilated Redwine, forcing a fumble (and breaking his ribs in the process). Alphonso Carreker, who would go on to enjoy a nine-year NFL career, pounced on the football, leading to another Capece field goal. In less than one quarter of play, FSU had flipped the script and now led 15-14 in front of a stunned stadium.
Much of the 4th quarter was played to a defensive stalemate. With 2:37 left in the game, Capece hit his fourth field goal of the game—tying a school record at the time—and FSU stretched the lead out to four. But this was Nebraska. Tom Osborne’s men were not going to lie down and quit.
With their backs against the wall and national title aspirations for both teams hanging in the balance, Nebraska put together their best drive of the entire half. With 17 seconds remaining in the game, the ball rested at the FSU three-yard line and QB Jeff Quinn stepped under center. Arguably the best FSU defense ever needed one more stop.
Quinn took the snap and rolled to his left. With Simmons occupying two blockers, linebacker Paul Piurowski came free and attacked Quinn like a heat-seeking missile. Grabbing Quinn’s arm before he could throw the ball away, Piurowski forced a fumble and Garry Futch fell on the football. Just like that, the upstart Seminoles secured a program-altering road win, the outcome sending shock-waves across the country.
After the game, Osborne credited the FSU defense and kicking game for being the differences in the game. He wasn’t wrong. FSU’s offense could only muster 166 total yards that afternoon, and yet still walked away the victors. First-team All-American Rohn Stark boomed seven punts an average of 48.4 yards, pinning the Cornhuskers deep time and time again. Capece hit the aforementioned four field goals. Piurowski finished with 18 tackles, including the game winner, and the defense forced four turnovers on the day.
So impressed were the Nebraska faithful, the crowd gave FSU a standing ovation as they walked off the field. Equally impressed, Bowden wrote a letter to the Lincoln Journal and Star newspapers where he professed that the Cornhusker fans, players, and staff gave him a “living testimony of what college football should be all about.” The letter was published in the Lincoln papers the following week, leading to a close relationship and admiration between the two programs for the rest of Bowden’s and Osborne’s careers.
So, while this particular author would make an argument for today’s play to have been featured closer to FSU’s Labor Day kickoff, perhaps it’s fitting that the play literally marking the arrival of the top 10 also symbolically marked the Seminoles’ arrival on the college football landscape.