Just when the game seemed headed for overtime, raising more fear among Florida State faithful that the season was heading for despair, placekicker Dustin Hopkins boomed a 55-yard, game-winning field goal, reversing perception and changing the dynamic of the Seminoles' remaining portion of the regular season.
After all those missed kicks of the past, including the one a week earlier that Hopkins missed against North Carolina to decide the game, he converted one as time expired. It was the first time Florida State had ever won a game on the final play with a successful kick. It was the first time since 1983 the Seminoles won a game on a final play.
"I told (Hopkins) the good Lord has a plan for all of us," Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said. "And He was just testing us -- testing everybody. Those losses we had, and seeing if we would change our core values and principles and go away from what we believe in.
"We did everything the same. We didn't change a thing because we knew we were so close." Well, here's one part of that fine line. The win enabled Florida State to keep hopes alive for the ACC Atlantic Division title. The Seminoles still have to win Saturday at Maryland -- no small feat -- and they still need N.C. State to lose one of its last two games.
But just as important for the Seminoles program, even if the Wolfpack wins the tiebreaker, the Seminoles can still attain a 10-win season for the first time in seven years by winning out and winning a bowl game.
All of a sudden, again, the season finale against Florida doesn't look as foreboding as it did a week ago.
"We still have some issues on this team," Fisher said. "Just because we make that one (field goal) doesn't mean those go away. We've still got to fix some issues and fix some problems. But one kick did change a lot. It averted a three-game losing streak. It assured a winning season. It continued to show that maybe the program is heading forward. The Seminoles won with backup quarterback E.J. Manuel, they won with top tailback Jermaine Thomas injured and with top emerging receiver Willie Haulstead out.
They won a game at the end, after losing the past two at the end.
"When I heard that thump, I said, 'Oh, that's good' and we all ran out onto the field," Manuel said. "I chased (Hopkins). He ran all over the place. I was just trying to, you know, hug him or something like that. But he ran away from me. So everybody was chasing him. It was a man chase."
To his credit, Hopkins stood like a man a week ago to address how he missed a 40-yard field goal against North Carolina that decided the game. This time, he reacted by running toward the other end zone, toward the student section, before getting tackled by teammates.
"I was trying to avoid a dog-pile," he said. "Those are some big dudes (teammates) out there."
--The Seminoles honored one of their greatest former players, linebacker Derrick Brooks, by retiring his jersey and number. He is the eighth Florida State player to have that honor bestowed, joining other greats such as Deion Sanders, Charlie Ward and Chris Weinke. Brooks, now a member of the FSU Board of Trustees and headed for the NFL Hall of Fame in four more years, received a lengthy standing ovation as he stood with his family at midfield at halftime to accept the honor.
--The Seminoles also chose to honor catcher Buster Posey, the rookie hero of the World Series champion San Francisco Giants, who led Florida State to the College World series in 2008. Posey's introduction in the first quarter ignited a loud standing ovation.
--On Florida State's first offensive player, QB E.J. Manuel connected with WR Rodney Smith for a 53-yard gain. It was a career long for both players.
--TE Beau Reliford had three receptions, a career high.
--The Seminoles' defense held Clemson to the fewest points the Tigers have scored against Florida State since 2000.
--Seminoles DE Brandon Jenkins had his ninth and 10th sacks of the season. He leads Florida State in that category.
GAME BALL GOES TO: PK Dustin Hopkins -- Who else, of course? What an amazing turnaround. After he missed two fourth-quarter field goals against North Carolina a week earlier, including the game-deciding kick, Hopkins made all three field-goal attempts against Clemson. His 55-yard field goal was the third longest in Florida State history. He also had two of his four kickoffs result in touchbacks.
KEEP AN EYE ON: WR Rodney Smith -- The sophomore caught four passes for 121 yards and continued to show potential for the future. He and Willie Haulstead are two players the Seminoles can build a passing attack around next season.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "One problem we don't have is competing. Our kids will compete. And they won't quit. And they'll battle. And they'll fight and they'll scratch and they'll claw. And I'm proud as heck of that." -- Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher, on the state of his team.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
LOOKING GOOD: The Seminoles defense, maligned the previous two weeks, stepped up to force field goals each time Clemson got into the red zone. The Seminoles blocked one of those field goals and put enough pressure to cause a miss on another. While the defense yielded 391 yards total offense and 25 first downs, the Seminoles prevented Clemson from reaching the end zone after giving up an early first-quarter touchdown. They limited Clemson to only three points in the second half.
STILL NEEDS WORK: Somehow, the Seminoles have to find a healthy tailback or two and re-establish a running game. They can't depend on the quarterback to make the yards on the ground. In this case, E.J. Manuel had the longest run (25 yards) and by far the most yards (71). The Seminoles have to be able to line up against a stacked defensive front and still make some yards, or bust out a big play.
--QB Christian Ponder (elbow) missed his first game of the season, but he is expected to return as a starter for the Maryland game. Coach Jimbo Fisher said Ponder could have played if needed. In fact, he warmed up prior to the game with the first-team offense and was even announced as the starting quarterback during introductions 30 minutes before kickoff.
--WR Willie Haulstead (concussion) did not return after sustaining his injury in the first quarter. The severity of the concussion will determine whether he plays against Maryland. Normally, it's a one-game absence for precautionary reasons.
--TB Jermaine Thomas (knee) will have an MRI on Monday, but the Seminoles fear it could be a season-ending injury. He hurt the leg during the first half and didn't return. Ty Jones, who missed the North Carolina game for an unspecified violation of team rules, had.
--Prior to the game, the Seminoles announced three reserve players opted to leave the team and had been granted transfer waivers. They are S Jajuan Harley, WR A.J. Alexander and DE Jamar Jackson. All three had played sparingly this season.