Finishing 13-0 for the third time in school history and snagging the program’s 19th conference title, Florida State Seminoles football put together a season to remember in 2023.
We’ve been taking a look at the most impactful plays of the season — yesterday saw the reveal of the top six ahead of today’s reveal.
If you missed it or forgot the grading scale, here it is below:
These are not solely highlights — these are impactful moments made in a game that changed the course of that contest and the season. For reference, Keon Coleman’s one-handed catch against Syracuse will not be in here. Why? Although that may be the season’s highlight, it was in the first quarter in a game where FSU won 41-3.
With that out of the way, here are the top five most impactful plays of the 2023 FSU season.
No. 5 Renardo Green’s interception in the 4th quarter vs. LSU
The Situation: The birthing of the ‘second-half Seminoles’ came from this game and this play. After being down at the break, FSU clung to a touchdown advantage to begin the 4th quarter. On the first play of the final frame, Malik Nabers slipped leading to the curl route, falling right into Renardo Green’s arms. Eight plays later, Keon Coleman caught his third TD of the game, and the thrashing was on.
Why it’s here: This play put an exclamation point on an incredible thirty minutes from FSU, probably the best half of football they played all season. The defense held the Heisman Trophy winner’s offense out of the end zone until garbage time in the second half. The play encapsulated the true potential of the team and the defense. At the beginning of the season, media members thought LSU could be a dark horse national title contender. Green’s INT put Florida State well on its way to a 21-point blowout win against a top 5 opponent. FSU may still have won this game without the play, but it signaled to the rest of the country that the ‘Noles would be a force all season.
No. 4: Ja’Khi Douglas’ catch on 4th and 3 vs. UF
The Situation: Florida State struggled all night in the Swamp, finding offensive consistency, but looked more efficient in the second half. Both teams traded punts after opening drive scores to start the 3rd quarter, leading to a neck-and-neck, one-point game. Keon Coleman’s punt return (my hardest snub) led to favorable field position for the Seminoles in what felt like the first time all night. With the FSU offense in no man’s land, Mike Norvell rolled the dice on 4th and 3. Florida brought pressure all night, and with the safety blitzing down, Tate replaced the player with the ball to find Douglas on a slant route over the middle. Florida State kicked a field goal to cap off the drive, and that score was all the defense needed to hold the lead.
Why it’s here: After the FSU TD to start the half, they had just gone three and out two drives in a row. The offense looked off-schedule the entire night, and with the positive momentum generated by Keon’s punt return, FSU could not let it go to waste. The play signified that Mike Norvell trusted Tate Rodemaker and that the Seminole offense could still execute at a high level when it needed to. Douglas’s catch ended up being the most well-executed play of the night on the offensive side, leading to FSU stealing a win in Gainesville. The play was also highly listed because of what would happen if the pass fell incomplete. The Swamp roared the entire night, and that change in momentum may have been the straw to break the camel’s back. A few plays make the difference in a tightly contested affair, especially in the 4th quarter. I am unsure if FSU could have survived another drive stall based on the game script leading up to that point.
No. 3: Fentrell Cypress’ forced fumble vs. Pitt
The Situation: Florida State’s inability to be prepared for starts of games almost came back to bite them against Pitt. The first quarter looked as disjointed as FSU had been all season on the offensive side of the ball. On defense, Pitt’s lack of execution was the only thing holding them back from smashing the game open.
Then it happened.
Konata Mumpfield found himself in acres of space to start the second quarter. He looked good as gone striding into the end zone, until Fentrell Cypress came flying into the play and battled with the Pitt receiver to bring him to the ground. As Mumpfield looked to be crossing the goal line, Cypress found a way to knock the ball loose and recover it for a touchback. Even though Pitt drew first blood on their next possession, Cypress finally brought positive momentum to a team that desperately needed it.
Why it’s here: Without that play being made, Florida State could find itself down two touchdowns with zero going offensively and losing to a terrible Pitt team that got blown out by Notre Dame the week before may have been one of the worst losses in school history. However, the play was so high on the list because of what it signified. Fentrell Cypress never gave up on the play, epitomizing the effort and culture that Mike Norvell instilled in the program. No matter what happens on or off the field, his program always finds a way to respond, and the Virginia transfer exemplified those qualities in this play.
No. 2: Deuce Spann’s Kick-off return for a TD vs. Duke
The Situation: Doak Cambell Stadium fell silent. After another horrific start to the game, things went from bad to worse when Jordan Travis threw a pic-6, and Duke raced out to a 10-point lead. Nothing seemed to go the Seminoles’ way on either side of the ball. The offense struggled to sustain drives, and the defense could not stop the run. When the ‘Noles went down 17-7 to a top-20 team, it finally felt like all their poor habits had caught up to them. Then, in one play, it all changed. Deuce Spann, who struggled to find playing time this season, hit the hole and went to the house for a 99-yard kick-off return for a touchdown. The crowd returned to life, and the momentum ultimately allowed them to complete the comeback.
Why it’s here: The scoreline told a different story than the game. Duke firmly had a foot in the door for most of the contest, and some think the outcome could be different if Riley Leonard never got hurt. Nonetheless, FSU needed this kickoff return. The offense still had nothing going, and another drive stall could have broken the arrow off the panic meter. Deuce Spann took advantage of his moment and gave the Seminoles a spark. The play also signifies the time and effort the coaching staff puts into special teams. In every meaningful game this year, a special team’s play broke the dam in favor of the ‘Noles. With this kickoff return for a touchdown, another magical moment in Doak Cambell Stadium found itself in the history books.
No. 1: Kalen DeLoach’s Scoop and Score TD vs. Clemson
The Situation: Going into Clemson, the Seminoles knew it would take everyone to come out with a win. FSU had not won in ten years, and even in a down year for Dabo Swinney’s team, coming out alive in Death Valley would not be easy. Florida State found itself down double digits multiple times during the game but battled back to put the game within striking distance. However, with the clock ticking to end the third quarter, a massive Phil Mafah run put Clemson in FSU territory, looking to put a stranglehold on the game. If FSU goes down two touchdowns on the road to start the 4th quarter, the obituary would begin to be written. However, Adam Fuller returned to his bread and butter and sent in exotic pressure. Kalen DeLoach went untouched into the backfield and unloaded on Cade Klubnik. The Clemson QB never saw him coming, and as soon as he got off the turf, DeLoach and a convoy were off to the races. The touchdown ended up being the final points in regulation, and a Keon Coleman OT TD catch signaled that FSU were the new kings of the ACC.
Why it’s here: I did not think anything else even came close to the season’s best play. As soon as it happened, I knew that if FSU found a way to win that game, it would be one of the highlight-reel moments for the entire program. With so much to unpack, I will start with this. FSU probably does not win that game if the defense does not find a way to get a stop. Even down 10 points may have been too much to come back from as the offense struggled to find consistency. As far as what it meant for the season, the play described the 2023 year. FSU continued to battle back, only to be knocked down again, but their response propelled them to victory. Florida State could have given up after a back-breaking run. Instead, they relied on their senior leadership and creative play calling to find a way to get a victory. The play also put FSU on the fast track to winning for the first time in Death Valley in a decade. Killing dynasties is never easy. For Florida State to go into South Carolina, where so many Seminole ghosts haunt them, and find a way to win, exemplified how far the program has gone.
That is all for today — agree with the selections? Head to the comment section to share your thoughts!