Opening Night

Call it redemption. Call it a statement game. Call it an impressive first step. Any of the three descriptions accurately describe FSU's 37-0 victory over UNC Saturday. The Seminoles cruised to the easy win behind an opportunistic offense and a swarming defense that posted the program's first season-opening shutout since 1993 against Kansas in the Kickoff Classic in the Meadowlands. "It's definitely a start, and a foot in the right direction to where we need to go this season," Chris Rix said.

Call it redemption. Call it a statement game. Call it an impressive first step.

Any of the three descriptions accurately describe Florida State's 37-0 victory over North Carolina Saturday in Chapel Hill, N.C.

The Seminoles cruised to the easy win behind an opportunistic offense and a swarming defense that posted the program's first season-opening shutout since 1993 against Kansas in the Kickoff Classic in the Meadowlands.

For those who believe in omens, FSU capped that season with its first national championship.

While the Seminoles would love nothing more than to help celebrate the 10th anniversary of that title with another crown in the Sugar Bowl this year, they realize that achievement will be earned over the long haul.

Still, FSU couldn't have pick a better way to let the nation know it's serious about wanting to prove it belongs among the nation's elite again.

Quarterback Chris Rix ran for a pair of short touchdowns and threw for another score as FSU avenged an embarrassing 41-9 defeat to the Tar Heels at Kenan Stadium in 2001. The Seminoles finished with 29 first downs and 553 yards of total offense as UNC was shut out in a season opener for the first time since 1966.

"I was very proud of the guys tonight," said Rix, who completed 11 of his first 12 passes and finished 17-of-26 for 232 yards. He also helped direct five drives of 70 yards or longer.

"It's definitely a start, and a foot in the right direction to where we need to go this season. We wanted payback. I wanted payback. I think we got it by beating them convincingly. I am satisfied. It's a start but we have a ways to go."

The Tar Heels' only scoring chance of the first half came on field goal attempts, but Dan Orner was wide right from 51 and 37 yards. The loss was UNC's seventh straight at Kenan Stadium, tying a school record for consecutive home defeats set in 1987-88. UNC finished with 295 total yards.

"They performed better than I thought they would. They did well," Bowden said of his Seminoles. "I am not disappointed in anything."

FSU rolled up 301 yards and 18 first downs in the first half to build a comfortable margin. The Seminoles' depth also was evident on both sides of the line of scrimmage, as 56 FSU players saw action in the first quarter. FSU used three quarterbacks and four tailbacks, including Willie Reid.

FSU's new offensive line looked impressive as the Seminoles rushed for 236 yards.

"Even though this was our first game we felt it was a statement game," said starting tailback Greg Jones, who showed he is recovered from reconstructive knee surgery with 59 rushing yards and one touchdown on eight carries.

The highlight of the ground attack came late in the first quarter when Jones bulled over all-ACC defensive back Dexter Reid, the nation's leading returning tackler, when he lowered his right shoulder and forearm, knocking off Reid's helmet at the tail end of a 21-yard rush.

"When I saw him, I knew what I was going to do," Jones said. "Me and him talked over the summer. It was either him or me right there, but he knows it's left on the field. They (teammates) were telling me good job, you are back, stuff to fire me up."

The Seminoles' game plan was to spread out the Tar Heels and use their speed. It worked from the start as Rix was able to hit receivers or running backs with early swing passes or short routes that turned into big gains. Receiver Craphonso Thorpe finished with a team-high seven catches for 83 yards.

FSU's newcomers also made nice first impressions.

Tailback Lorenzo Booker finished with a game-high 87 rushing yards, including a nifty 21-yard scoring run, and receiver Chris Davis had four catches for 49 yards and 7-yard touchdown reception.

""I really can't explain it to tell you the truth," Booker said.

"I never worked so hard or wanted something so bad in my life. Honestly, it hasn't sunk in yet. It will probably sink in tomorrow morning when I wake up in the morning and understanding that I finally stepped on the field with the team that I always wanted to do it with."

True freshmen who made their collegiate debut included offensive linemen John Frady and Mario Henderson, linebacker Ernie Sims and cornerback Antonio Cromartie.

Defensively, FSU recorded two turnovers on interceptions from Stanford Samuels and Pat Watkins. UNC was limited to 17 first downs, attempted 47 passes and averaged just 3.9 yards per play.

Quarterback Darian Durant, who led the ACC in passing yardage last season, could never get the Tar Heels untracked.

FSU did not escape the game unscathed, however. Tailback Leon Washington, who was slowed by a thigh bruise during the preseason, suffered a dislocated right elbow while returning a punt in the first quarter. His status will be re-evaluated.


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