What's that? The story isn't hanging on your refrigerator? I can't imagine why. But if you really want to hear the story, I guess it is our responsibility to give it to you.
All week long the Mountaineer staff and players held together in their belief that this year was going to be different. This time around the Mountaineers were going to be prepared. The 2005 Gator Bowl was not going to be the blowout that West Virginia fans had seen in the 2004 version of Jacksonville's bowl game and in the 2002 Continental Tire Bowl.
In a way they were right. It was a game. The attitude was better, and the Mountaineers were able to give the Seminoles from Florida State a battle. It was different than Rodriguez's past two bowl appearances, but it was very much the same as the end of the regular season.
Despite 429 yards of total offense and enough red zone appearances to keep an entire city's fries covered in ketchup if the game had been played at Pittsburgh's Heinz Field, West Virginia came out on the downside of the scoreboard. Penalties, mistakes and a failure to convert tailor-made opportunities into poinyd left WVU fans hanging their heads as West Virginia moved to 0-5 in the Gator Bowl after a 30-18 loss to Bobby Bowden's ‘Noles.
"We moved the ball well," said WVU coach Rich Rodriguez, who is now 0-3 in bowl games as a head coach. "We had longer drives on them than some of their regular season opponents. We just didn't finish drives well and that's disappointing.
"Obviously I'm disappointed we lost the game. I told the team I thought they prepared well and had good focus. But, we made some mistakes and when you make mistakes against good teams, they'll cost you the game."
The first of those mistakes that had Rodriguez scratching his head came on the very first drive of the game when West Virginia missed a pair of tackles that allowed FSU tailback Leon Washington to trot 69 yards on his way to setting a Gator Bowl record for the longest touchdown run in the bowl's history. The score put FSU up 7-0 and some fans were still finding their seats.
Then, on the ensuing kickoff, Adam Jones coughed up the football, giving Florida State possession at the WVU 17. The Mountaineers were able to hold the Seminoles to a field goal, but an eerie chill from the Ghost of Bowl Games Past was starting to fill Alltel Stadium.
"We were down 10-0 and the jets -- (part of a theatrical pregame ceremony) -- hadn't even landed yet," said Rodriguez. "We fell behind about as quick as a team can."
Perhaps to the surprise of many in attendance, however, West Virginia quickly answered the early FSU surge. On the strength of a 36-yard touchdown run from Kay-Jay Harris, the Mountaineers drove 74 yards on eight plays to cut into the Seminole lead. A missed Brad Cooper extra point put a damper on the drive, though, and that would prove to be a sign of things to come.
West Virginia would have another chance at splitting the uprights for a bonus point before the end of the opening quarter after Dee McCann's interception on the FSU 44 led to the Mountaineers' second touchdown of the contest. A 40-yard Marshall to Henry hookup did most of the damage on the drive, and Harris finished it off with a one-yard leap to put West Virginia in front for the first time, 12-10.
With his confidence in Cooper shot, Rodriguez sent Andy Good on the field to attempt the gimmie, but his try hooked outside the uprights as well. Still, West Virginia held a 12-10 advantage at the end of the first quarter, and the faithful Mountaineer fans that had made the journey to Jacksonville were starting to believe.
Florida State would retake the lead less than four minutes into the second frame when Xavier Beitia hit from 28-yards out. FSU led 13-12, a lead they would take to the locker room with them at the half.
The Mountaineers did have a couple of chances to pull back in front before the break, but they converted none of them. The first came when the men in gold and blue drove the ball to the FSU 11, where they faced a third-and-four. Marshall's pass to Harris gained just one yard, and West Virginia faced a fourth-and-three from the 10. Instead of trusting his shaky special teams unit to give the Mountaineers the lead with a 27-yard field goal, Rodriguez decided to opt for some trickery, with holder George Shehl picking up the snap on a fake field goal and trying to run. Shehl, though, never crossed the line of scrimmage, and West Virginia was left with nothing out of a 10-play, 70-yard drive.
The Mountaineers would get another chance just minutes later when Chris Rix fumbled the football on his own 30 and WVU's Mike Lorello pounced on the pigskin. West Virginia moved all the way into the red zone before Harris put the ball on the grass at the FSU 12. Pat Watkins picked the ball up for the Seminoles, and another promising possession ended without a score.
Still, a one-point deficit at the half was not bad for a team that has made a history out of being manhandled in bowls, and the WVU crowd stood and cheered in appreciation of the effort as the teams headed into the bowels of Alltel Stadium.
Florida State struck first in the second half after A.J. Nicholson made a diving interception of a Marshall's pass that he had tipped into the air. FSU took over at the West Virginia 44 and drove all the way to the 11 before Beitia had to settle for another three-spot. The kick sailed through, however, and Florida State extended its lead to four at 16-12.
Again, the Mountaineers would answer. An eight-play, 53-yard drive that failed to include a single pass completion put West Virginia on the Seminole 27, where Rodriguez would give Good another chance. The Ohio native willed the ball through the uprights, cutting the lead to 16-15 and giving WVU fans even more reason to believe.
After a holding penalty forced the ‘Noles to begin their next possession on their own 10, Florida State pulled off what would be a game-changing drive. On the legs of Washington, who finished the game with 195 yards on just 12 carries, FSU marched 90 yards with 16 plays and capped the drive with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Craphonso Thorpe on third-and-goal. The long drive ate up more than seven minutes of the third quarter and gave FSU an eight-point lead as the final frame approached.
The fourth quarter would begin with the same 23-18 score, but Florida State extended the lead to 12 with 11:12 remaining when James Coleman took the ball across the line from one-yard out after an 80-yard drive.
West Virginia would never recover, despite moving the ball inside the FSU 40 on two more occasions, and Florida State would do just enough to take home the 30-18 win.
The Mountaineers end the season with an 8-4 record, after dropping their final three games of the season.