Second Chances Made Good

There were no more run-ins between Darnell Dockett and Earnest Graham. Chris Rix, meanwhile, made the most of his second chance after being benched last month. And a week of turmoil following the dismissal of quarterback Adrian McPherson was replaced by grins and high-fives in the Seminoles' locker room Saturday night. "It was starting to get emotional for me on our last drive. We knew coming in, if we didn't turn the ball over, we'd have a good chance to win the game," Rix said.

Darnell Dockett says he respects Earnest Graham.

In fact, Dockett extended a helping hand to Graham at times in Florida State's 31-14 victory over the Florida Gators Saturday at Doak Campbell Stadium. The two didn't appear to have any more run-ins after last season's controversy when Graham accused Dockett of intentionally hurting him following a tackle.

"It has been over," Dockett said.

"Whoever thinks about it, that's their thing. It has been over. Earnest Graham is a great running back. I will see him in the NFL one day. Runs hard. I helped him up a couple times. It ain't nothing like that (last year). Both of us know where we stand. So, it feels alright. He's straight with it. It ain't no big altercation like everybody is trying to make it to be. It's not like that. We are moving on with our lives. He's trying to win for his team and I am trying to win for mine. Today we got out with a victory and it felt good. We went out there and dominated on offense and defense."

Indeed.

Taking advantage of his second chance, Chris Rix ran for 83 yards and threw two touchdowns to Anquan Boldin to help the No. 23 Seminoles earn their biggest win of the year. Heroes were everywhere. Freshman tailback Leon Washington ran for 134 yards and a score. Linebacker Kendyll Pope returned an interception for a touchdown. A week of turmoil following the dismissal of quarterback Adrian McPherson was replaced by grins and high-fives.

"We finally looked like Florida State,'' relieved coach Bobby Bowden said. "It took us a mighty long time to begin to get the pieces together. It looks like we have the right quarterback in there. It looks like the quarterback has been through a learning process. He has learned to communicate with his teammates, and it lookls like they have accepted him. That gives you a chance to win. That is why we were able to win tonight."

The Seminoles (9-4) beat their biggest rival for the fourth time in five years, and now they have a month to get ready for a trip to a major bowl -- probably the Sugar, though the Orange Bowl could still be a possibility following USC's easy victory over Notre Dame. FSU fans everywhere are more excited about another key point at the moment, however -- the Gators (8-4) still haven't won in Tallahassee since 1986.

Rix, meanwhile, turned in a solid performance.

Rix won the starting job by default when McPherson was kicked off the team Monday after a police investigation led to his arrest on a charge of felony grand theft. McPherson's final game was a dreadful 17-7 loss to North Carolina State last Saturday that had Seminoles fans angry. Bowden promised to throw the quarterback race wide open this week, but that wasn't necessary following McPherson's dismissal.

Rix's passing stats -- 13-for-29 for 194 yards -- weren't incredible. But most important, he avoided the mistakes that cost FSU games early in the year and landed him on the bench.

"I can't even describe how I feel from playing to not playing to going out tonight and beating Florida," said Rix, who was in near tears in the locker room.

"I've never been happier. I am just proud of this team and proud of this program. It was starting to get emotional for me on our last droive. We knew coming in, if we didn't turn the ball over, we'd have a good chance to win the game. I have to give credit to the offensive line and receivers. They were outstanding tonight. The way Leon (Washington) ran the ball really helped us open it up. This team had gone through a lot this week. A lot of people don't know what coach Bowden had had to go through. It feels good to get a win over Florida for coach Bowden. We knew we had to go out and win this game for coach Bowden."

UF coach Ron Zook felt Rix was the difference in the game.

"I think he probably played as good a game -- I know of all the games I've watched, that's the best game I've seen him play," Zook said. "My hats off to him and I think they've done a great job.

"He took it to another level today. He was very, very impressive. Between the penalties and not keeping him contained, the defense couldn't get off the field. When we couldn't keep him contained and they were able to start running the football and have some success running the football now you have the defense back on its haunches and it's a struggle."

Florida's hopes grew dim with 10 minutes left in the third quarter when Grossman flipped a pass to tight end Aaron Walker. Walker tipped it into the hands of Pope, whose 13-yard interception return gave the Seminoles a 24-6 lead.

"They just made us played harder," Dockett said. "We were doing our job of running to the ball. We played better today. Everybody in the nation knows we dominated. We basically played Florida State football."


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