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Game story: FSU finds a way for the first time in 2021, tops Syracuse 33-30

“We needed to get a win. It was a wonderful feeling walking into that locker room and seeing the smiles.”

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Florida State Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports

Tallahassee, FL- “We needed to get a win. It was a wonderful feeling walking into that locker room and seeing the smiles,” said Mike Norvell after the Seminoles topped Syracuse 33-30 for their first win of 2021. It wasn’t pretty, but for the first time this season, the Seminoles found a way. After leading by ten early in the fourth quarter, it took a walk-off field goal by Ryan Fitzgerald for the Seminoles to put a one in the win column. What mattered to Norvell was the way his team finished, “Some of the ways we’ve lost games, our kids feel that. To see them be able to finish that game the way it was finished, it was huge.”

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Florida State Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports

Moments that mattered

Not a perfect start, but the best one yet

Florida State hasn’t had any pretty starts this season. Coming into Saturday afternoon against the Syracuse Orange, the Seminoles hadn’t posted points on their opening drive. Last week, the Louisville Cardinals scored on their first five drives. Today, it was a different story. FSU’s defense started the day with a three-and-out. Robert Cooper and Keir Thomas stuffed consecutive QB draws to force a three-and-out. Jordan Travis (making his second start of the season) and the offense took over at their own 35.

Lawrance Toafili moved the offense near Syracuse territory as he converted a third and short. A Malik McClain drop brought up a fourth and two, but the ‘Noles responded with a swing pass to Jashaun Corbin for a first down. Corbin then ripped off a 10-yard run to move the Seminoles’ near the red-zone. FSU’s first negative play came on the 15th offensive play, but it was costly as a TFL brought up a 3rd and 11. After the Seminoles weren’t able to convert, Ryan Fitzgerald drilled a 35-yard field goal to open the scoring. The drive lasted 17 plays and ate up more than seven minutes.

Defense stands tall as Thomas makes another big play

Syracuse got a kick-start from the defense as Jammie Robinson was called for a questionable face-mask penalty on the Orange’s first play of their second drive. ’Cuse converted its first third down on its first pass as Garrett Shrader connected with Courtney Jackson to move the Orange into FSU territory. Jarvis Brownlee brought down a WR short of the first down on third and five to bring up fourth and two. It was FSU’s second third down stop in as many drives, the same number of third down stops the Seminoles had the entire first half against Louisville. On fourth down, Thomas made his second big tackle of the day. The South Carolina Gamecocks transfer beat his man off the edge to bring down Sean Tucker in the backfield and force a turnover on downs.

McDonald, Travis gets the ‘Noles in the end-zone

FSU and Syracuse traded a pair of three-and-outs after the turnover on downs. Despite their three-and-outs, the Seminoles won the field position battle. After a tackle for loss and a short punt, the Seminoles took over at midfield on their second drive of the second quarter. Camren McDonald moved the ‘Noles into Cuse territory on the first play with a 12-yard catch-and-run. Travis looked like vintage Jordan Travis as he pushed the Seminoles into the red-zone with a 20-yard gain on a designed QB run.

Two plays later, Travis snuck a sidearm pass around a blitzing defensive back to connect with McDonald. Ontaria Wilson and Keyshawn Helton paved the way to the five for McDonald, before he dragged a couple defenders into the end-zone for a 14-yard TD. It put FSU up 9-0.

Shrader, Cuse start to gash FSU’s defense, take lead with two quick TD drives

The Seminoles looked to be in full control as they went up 9-0 (Fitzgerald missed the PAT). The defense had allowed just 38 yards over the first four drives. It looked as though the momentum from last week’s second half carried over to this game, but Shrader quickly flipped the switch. The QB broke loose on a 55-yard TD scamper to cap a three-play, 67-yard drive to get the Orange back in the game. However, Syracuse returned the favor, missing the PAT, resulting in a 9-6 score.

FSU’s offense responded with a three-and-out in which it went backwards twice in three plays. Five plays later, the Orange had the lead. Four straight 10+ yard plays moved the Orange into Florida State’s red zone. Shrader rushed into the end-zone again to put Cuse up 13-9 with 2:33 remaining in the half. After averaging 2.05 yards on its first 19 plays, Syracuse lit up the FSU defense for 19 yards per play over the next eight plays.

Travis leads important TD drive, Seminoles take lead into locker room

The Seminoles’ offense had to have a response on this drive, and that they did. With some help from the Orange (a holding and a roughing the passer), FSU quickly moved into Syracuse territory. Back-to-back catches by Treshaun Ward pushed the ‘Noles into the red-zone. Travis threw a strike to Helton over the middle of the field and Helton leaped up to snag a 14-yard touchdown to put the ‘Noles back on top with 39 seconds remaining in the half.

It took Syracuse just one play to get back into FSU territory, but three straight incompletions brought up a Hail Mary attempt from FSU’s 40. On fourth down, Travis Jay skied to snag the Hail Mary for an interception as the first half came to an end.

Thomas makes another big play, FSU gets a lucky bounce to add onto the lead

The Seminoles’ offense went three-and-out after receiving the opening kick of the half. The defensive line stepped up to give the ball right back to the ‘Noles. It was Thomas, once again, as he made a shoe-string tackle of Shrader on third-and-four to bring him down for no gain and force a punt. A shank gave the Seminoles the ball at Cuse’s 48. Corbin started the drive with back-to-back first down runs. Travis found Helton on a comeback on third-and-nine to put the ‘Noles inside the five. On third-and-goal, Travis looked for Wilson on a swing pass, but Wilson couldn’t haul it in. With the pass going backwards, the ball was active on the ground as a fumble. Andrew Parchment made a heads-up play to pickup the ball and run it into the end-zone for a touchdown.

Deloach stuffs Shrader to negate special teams miscue

Syracuse took over the ball at FSU’s 34-yard line after a muffed punt. The Cuse trailed by 10 at the time. Within two plays, they had first-and-goal at the Seminoles’ eight. The ‘Noles brought down a WR on a screen at the one to bring up fourth and goal from the one. Shrader kept the ball on a read option and looked destined for the end-zone, but Kalen Deloach, FSU’s lone linebacker on the field, met him at the one and drove him back. The rest of the defense came behind him to finish the play, the best defensive play that FSU’s defense has made this season.

Quick four-play TD drive cuts FSU’s lead to three

After the goal line stand, the Seminoles went three-and-out. A punt from the end-zone gave Syracuse the ball at FSU’s 49. Shrader ripped off a 32-yard scramble to move into the red-zone. He finished off the drive with a TD on a QB sneak as he leaped over a pile of bodies for a one-yard score.

Ward’s 65-yard run sets up Corbin’s TD

The Syracuse score cut the lead to three, meaning the Seminoles needed an answer on offense. On third and four, Ward hauled in a short out from Travis to pick up the first down and avoid a three-and-out. On the next play, Ward bursted through the interior of the offensive line, made one man miss, and scampered for 65 yards to get FSU within the Syracuse five-yard line. Corbin finished off the drive as he punched it in from two yards out on the next play to put FSU back up 10.

Cuse responds with another quick TD drive, interception leads to game-tying FG

The back-and-forth affair continued on the next drive as the Orange needed just six plays to cut the deficit back to a field goal. Shrader found Anthony Queeley on the first play of the drive for a 24-yard connection. The QB and Queeley connected again on third-and-ten for a 26-yard touchdown to cap the drive.

FSU’s offense picked up a first down on the following drive, but a missed assignment led to a quick turnover. Travis looked outside for a smoke screen, but McDonald missed a block and DB Darian Chestnut made a diving catch for an interception.

Syracuse took back possession at the 41. Shrader ran for 15 and two Tucker runs gave the Orange first-and-goal. Cooper and Deloach came up with two more crucial tackles to force third-and-goal. Deloach pressured Shrader to force him out of the pocket, leading to an incomplete pass. Andre Szmyt hit a 24-yard FG to tie the game with 5:19 remaining.

Travis works his magic, Fitzgerald hits the walk-off

FSU went three-and-out after Syracuse tied the game. With all the momentum in Cuse’s hands, the game felt all but decided as FSU punted. But the defense made a stand when it mattered again. After one first down, Robert Cooper came up with a big tackle to bring up third-and-seven. Shrader targeted Jarrian Jones in one-on-one coverage down the field, but Jones held strong to force an incompletion, leading to a punt. The defense wasn’t good by any stretch, but they made stops when it mattered. Syracuse was just 2-12 on third down and 0-3 on fourth down.

Following the punt, the Seminoles took over the ball at their own 21 with 1:03 remaining in a tie game. Travis got the Seminoles to Syracuse territory with a thirty-yard scramble as he tip toed along the sideline. On third and seven, it was Travis the magician again. He spun away from pressure and scrambled for 25 yards to get FSU into the red-zone. Of the drive, Travis said, “A hole opened up, receivers made big blocks downfield. I couldn’t do anything without those guys. Shout out to the offensive line. I appreciate them, I love them, and I am just so happy right now.”

Travis said he knew the game was won after his runs because he knew Fitzgerald would make the field goal, “I’ve got faith in my dog.” And after the Orange iced him once, that’s exactly what the kicker did. Fitzgerald ended the game with a 34-yard field goal as time ran out.

After his first ever game-winning field goal, Fitzgerald said, “Week one, I went from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows in about 15 minutes. It was a great learning experience.”

FSU notables

Travis: 22-32, 131 yards, 2 TD, 19 rush, 113 yards

Ward: 2 rush, 66 yards, 5 rec, 29 yards

Corbin: 14 rush, 65 yards, TD, 5 rec, 14 yards

McDonald: 5 rec, 41 yards, TD

Helton: 2 rec, 26 yards, TD

Robinson: 9 tot tkl, TFL

Johnson: 7 tot tkl, PBU

Thomas: 4 tot tkl, TFL

Lovett: 2 tot tkl, sack, TFL

Up next: Florida State will travel to Chapel Hill to take on the North Carolina Tar Heels next week. UNC is 3-2 (2-2 ACC) after a 38-7 win over the Duke Blue Devils. The Tar Heels are 3-0 at home. After an upset win at Doak Campbell last season, the Seminoles are 16-3-1 all-time against UNC. Florida State’s last trip to Chapel Hill came in 2009, when FSU topped the Heels 30-27. Kickoff will be at either 3:00 or 3:30 PM on Saturday. It’ll be televised on ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, or ACC Network.