A Historic Saturday for FSU

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Call it the seven-year itch. It was 2003, the last time Florida State beat Florida. FSU fans have been tortured by their Florida friends every November. Until Saturday. FSU's seniors have been waiting their whole career. None of them had even experienced a close game against the rival Florida Gators. Until Saturday. And it wasn't even close.

FSU beat Florida in a manner that can only be described as sweet redemption. The Seminoles whipped the Gators as badly as UF had throttled FSU the past three years.

The Seminoles won 31-7 on Saturday, halting a six-game losing streak in the series that had seen Florida win the past three games by a combined 127-37.

"I'm so happy for our seniors; that's who I'm really happy for," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. "What they've been through the last four years and all the controversy from the academics (scandal) to coaching (Bobby Bowden's forced departure), things they had no control over … they just lined up and played and worked.

"And to have that last game in Doak Campbell. That's who I'm truly happy for. I'm happy for all the kids, but our seniors? That's a special group of seniors."

And at the end of the day, there was the cherry on top of the sundae: Maryland 38, N.C. State 31. The Terrapins' surprising win puts FSU in the ACC championship game for the first time in five years.

FSU is back. After a 7-6 season, the Seminoles are 9-3. They are back on the national stage and a win away from the Orange Bowl.

The Seminoles haven't enjoyed many blowouts in the series with Florida. It's hard to imagine a blowout more satisfying than Saturday's result.

FSU senior quarterback Christian Ponder had a career day. Not necessarily in terms of touchdowns thrown or yards passing, although he threw for three TDs and had 221 passing yards.

This was on different terms: a career-defining win. Yes, Ponder led FSU to a pair of wins at Miami (something no FSU quarterback in the Bowden Era achieved).

But he also led a rout of the Gators. On Senior Day, the final time that he will ever play in Doak Campbell Stadium.

"The guy is as good as there is in the country," Fisher said of Ponder. "I wish I could coach him for 1,000 years."

FSU hadn't beaten Florida and Miami in the same year since 1999 – the last time the Seminoles won the national title. Now FSU can claim a 45-17 rout of Miami and a 31-7 demolition of Florida.

"Unbelievable feeling," Ponder said. "For us to go out and play like we did and finish the game 31-7, it could not have played out any better in my mind."

The FSU defense could enjoy every minute of this one, too. The same players who had allowed 127 points the past three years? Seniors such as Kendall Smith and Markus White. They held Florida's misguided three-headed quarterback to just seven points and 64 passing yards.

"It means so much to me," FSU linebacker Nigel Bradham said. "Just beating those guys. They were recruiting me so heavy. I remember when I didn't go there, they said, ‘You will never beat us.'

"For me to do it, it just shows them that they were wrong, you know? Words can't really explain the way I feel right now."

Words can't really explain how bad Florida (7-5) looked on Saturday, but credit the FSU defense. Two fumbles and an interception – and the Seminoles capitalize to take a 24-7 halftime lead.

And FSU came through on special teams. Punter Shawn Powell pinned Florida inside its 10-yard line three times. And another senior, Ochuko Jenije, stopped Chas Henry on a fake-rugby-kick-turned run.

One play after Jenije's tackle, Ponder found Rodney Smith on a perfectly thrown 40-yard TD pass.

For the first time this year, FSU fans could exercise their vocal chords in unison. In appreciation of what their team was doing, 82,324 fans were also able to distract and thoroughly fluster Florida's offense, which was forced to call timeout after timeout.

The crowd was easily as loud as it has been in years. And the crowd seemed to get even louder when the Jumbotron flashed video of the Maryland-N.C. State game, with the Terrapins at that point leading in the fourth quarter.

Many fans with a smart phone in hand had an idea at that point what Maryland was doing.

But the score hadn't been announced inside the stadium, per Fisher's orders. But when it was, the fans kicked it up a few decibels.

It's not often that a football team can enjoy two wins in one day. Or in the span of a few minutes, for that matter.

But Saturday was that day for FSU. A day in which FSU beat Florida for the first time since 2003 – and will play for an ACC title for the first time since 2005.

It's a day most FSU fans won't soon forget.

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