FSU heads back to Charlottesville Saturday night when the Cavaliers host the Seminoles at 7:45 p.m.
"We had a bull's eye on our back," said tailback
Inconsistent offense and lackluster defense were huge factors that contributed to the defeat but Seminole fans always seem to boil the loss down to one play and one call.
Florida State at the Virginia 6. Four second left on the clock. Spread formation. Direct snap to Dunn…
On the game's final play, the shifty Dunn beat a pair of Cavaliers and reached the goal line but was stonewalled just short of pay dirt by Virginia's Anthony Poindexter and Adrian Burnim.
Replays showed that Dunn got into the end zone. They also revealed that he momentarily lost possession of the ball while crossing the plane, making a critical decision that much more difficult.
One of the linesmen, Lewis Tyre, raised both hands and signaled touchdown. The entire crew quickly converged and overruled that call to give the Cavaliers the victory and send their fans spilling onto the field.
"I know I got in," Dunn said. "I think it was a home call. It's a call at the end of the game that I've played over and over (in my mind). I couldn't tell you who stopped me. I just know I dove from the line. I don't think the officials could see that running in from the sidelines."
To this day, Florida State coach Bobby Bowden swears that Dunn had the game-clincher that would have bailed his team out any repercussions from that uninspired performance.
"We thought he got in there and the film never shows he didn't," Bowden said. "Any film I've ever seen shows him laying in the end zone and the ball rolling backwards which makes me think that he got in. If that game was played here, we might've won it.
"But once it's called it makes no difference. Once it's not good, it's not good."
Poindexter, a greenhorn freshman cornerback at the time, admits that he "had no idea" the play would become as significant as it did when he teamed with Burnim for the stop. Currently the running backs coach for the Cavaliers, Poindexter paused briefly before recalling what the UVA media guide calls the "biggest single defensive play in school history."
"It was such a bang bang play," he said. "You have to give the officials credit. It was inches, literally. His body was in the end zone but Burnim knocked the ball out somehow. Once the play was blown dead, he got over and made a push.
"Luckily for us, the official was right on top of that and (was able to) make the right call. Everything was happening so fast."
Fast is an understatement. In a matter of ten minutes, the concerned murmur that reverberated throughout the crowd of 44,300-plus turned into a deafening cacophony of victory cheers. The goal post Dunn and the Seminoles had been driving toward suddenly had UVA students swinging from it.
"Anybody who was there always remarks about the electricity that was in the air that night and how different it was," said quarterback Mike Groh, who had challenged fans in the week leading to the game by tagging them a "wine and cheese crowd."
"There was just something special about it. Fans were into it from the very beginning. Our team was very confident. When we had the right mindset, we could play with anybody in the country."
James Colzie – then a junior corner and now a graduate assistant for the Seminoles – echoed Groh's sentiment.
"The thing that struck us was that the place was packed two hours before kickoff when we were warming up," Colzie said. "They were ready to go."
The heroics of Groh – now the recruiting coordinator on father Al Groh's staff – and tailback Tiki Barber helped the Cavaliers out to an early lead that remained a two-score margin up until there was 6:09 to play in the game. That's when Dunn capped an 80-yard, 44-second FSU blitzkrieg with a 7-yard touchdown run that narrowed the gap to 33-28.
FSU, which piled up 546 yards on the night, got the ball back on its own 20 with 1:37 to play, more then enough time for another quick strike. Quarterback Danny Kanell (454 yards passing in the game) directed the Seminoles to the 6, where a play-calling gamble came up inches short of rendering a game-winner.
"The way I saw it is we had one of two plays," offensive coordinator Mark Richt told the Tallahassee Democrat. "It was either a jump ball or a direct snap. They way they were lining up, they had eight defenders in the end zone. There aren't going to be many creases with eight guys in there."
The Cavaliers were caught off guard. FSU had called just seven running plays in the second half and several admitted they suspected an attempt at a fade to all-ACC receiver Andre Cooper.
The tape suggests that the Cavs pulled a great compensation job but something else had tipped their hand.
"I saw it in (Dunn)'s eyes," UVA linebacker Skeet Jones told the Democrat. "I knew he was going to get the ball. I hollered, ‘Run! Run! Run!'."
The heads-up paid off.
Truth was, the Seminoles were lucky to be in it at the final play. That night the Seminoles – a 19.5-point favorite – managed just 59 rushing yards and only had one score to show for four trips to the red zone. Kanell was uncharacteristically shaky, starting 4-of-14 in the second half. This from a team that was averaging 56 points per contest coming in and had dispatched ACC opposition by a median score of 44-13 until that point.
A few players commented after the game that the team played without fire.
"It seemed like everybody was waiting on someone else to make the big play," center Kevin Long said.
Despite all of those ills, the game still transformed into one of college football's all-time classics.
"It was a shame someone had to lose the game that night," said Poindexter, who played two years for the NFL's Baltimore Ravens. "That was the most exciting environment I've ever been in and I've played in the Super Bowl."
Ditto for the euphoria that engulfed Charlottesville for the remainder of the weekend.
"It was a blast," Groh recalled. "I had a little hangover. I was glad we had extra day (off) since it was a Thursday game."
The defeat knocked Florida State from the top-five of the Associated Press poll for the first time since the end of the '94 season. Numerous references to the Law of Averages also surfaced since FSU's run of 29 straight conference victories – second-longest in NCAA history – had been snapped. (FSU went on to win its next 15 ACC games).
Despite the bad fortune, the significance of the game was not lost on the Seminoles.
"I think that was good for the ACC," Dunn said. "It was also of the great games in college football history."
Dunn also cited the addition of Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech as another big step for a conference that sported a previously underwhelming football resume.
Indeed, times have changed. Potential landmines in conference play are more prevalent than ever.
"You can get whipped every week now, boy," Bowden said. "There are a lot of hurdles out there now. You have to be prepared to play your best every week."
After the shocking defeat to the Cavaliers in 1995, the Seminoles did just that. A 31-26 victory over Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl put FSU at No. 4 in the final AP poll of the season.
The win allowed Virginia to rebound from final-play defeats against Texas and Michigan and gain a share of the league title along with FSU. The Cavs beat Georgia in the Peach Bowl to cap a 9-4 season.
"It was great to be the first team to do it," Groh said. "But more importantly, it put us in a position to be in the championship hunt. That was the more important thing."