In a tale of two halves, Florida State relied on a near-perfect first frame to upset #5 North Carolina 31-28.
FSU (2-3, 1-3 ACC) incredibly held North Carolina (3-1, 2-1 ACC) scoreless for the first 29 minutes of the game, and scored the most points in a half of a conference game than they had since 2014. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Jordan Travis passed for 191 yards and a touchdown, rushed for 107 yards and two more scores, and outdueled former Seminole commit Sam Howell.
Howell passed 374 yards and 3 touchdowns and UNC outscored FSU 21-0 in the second half. However, the Noles defense made enough plays when it mattered to squeak out an upset win.
The Noles started quick, with a punt block from freshman Ja’Khi Douglas after holding UNC on their first possession. Travis squirted around the right side for a 23-yard opening score on the Seminoles first play from scrimmage.
After stalling the rest of the first quarter, UNC elected for a fourth down try but were stuffed by defensive lineman Robert Cooper and linebacker Amari Gainer up the middle. FSU answered with a 9-play, 75-yard drive culminating with Travis quarterback sneak to improbably extend the lead to 17-0.
The star sophomore Howell got greedy and paid for it on the ensuing possession, when senior defensive lineman Joshua Kaindoh slipped in front of a pass in the flats and picked off the former Seminole verbal commitment. Kaindoh trotted untouched into the end zone to make it 24-0 FSU.
North Carolina finally got on the board with 1:02 remaining in the half, albeit aided by two personal foul penalties by the Noles.
Florida State quickly answered with a key drive to end the half, deflating FSU alum and UNC head coach Mack Brown. Travis scrambled for 15 yards twice, then dropped a perfect throw to wideout Warren Thompson for 33 yards. Then came one of Travis’ best plays of the evening: a spinning, pirouette 12-yard touchdown pass to tight end Cam McDonald.
Howell came alive in the third quarter, connecting on 8 of his 11 passes in the period, including 33 and 38-yard touchdowns. North Carolina went for broke, attempting two-point conversions on both touchdown drives (1/2) and going for it on fourth down deep inside Seminoles territory on their other third quarter possession.
When Travis threw an interception on the final play of the third quarter, suddenly FSU found themselves in a dog fight. But Adam Fuller’s defense again came through, forcing a three-and-out and a missed field goal after starting from their own 30-yard line.
The Louisville transfer, battered and bruised, continued to make clutch plays with his legs, bringing Florida State down to the 20-yard line and running off nearly 7 minutes of game clock. Kicker Ryan Fitzgerald failed to capitalize, missing from 38 yards.
Tension was palpable despite a limited home crowd in Doak Campbell Stadium, but Howell coolly led UNC down the field in under two minutes, cutting the advantage to just 31-28. Junior receiver Dyami Brown caught Howell’s third touchdown, a rope from 25 yards out.
After holding FSU, North Carolina got the ball back one final time, but failed to convert a fourth down from the 41-yard line with 44 seconds left.
Despite being shut out in the second half, FSU barely held on for a signature win in head coach Mike Norvell’s first season.