Storybook End for Bowden, Nightmare for WVU

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Bobby Bowden started the Konica Minolta Gator Bowl off with a speech to an adoring crowd and by planting Chief Osceola's flaming spear into the turf at midfield. He ended it in the same way he had finished 388 other games in his legendary career -- celebrating a victory.

Florida State recovered from an early 14-3 deficit by scoring 20 consecutive points and Bowden defeated his former school 33-21 on Friday afternoon in front of a Gator Bowl record crowd of 84,129 at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium.

The victory gave the Seminole program its 33rd straight winning season and sent Bowden out a winner for the 389th -- and final -- time in his career.

"Like so many games, when you're behind like we were in that first quarter, there's always an opportunity to quit and to give up," Bowden said. "The kids did not. They kept fighting, kept coming back and won the ball game. That's what you want."

Bowden's team was aided in that effort by the fact that West Virginia starting quarterback Jarrett Brown was knocked out of action at the end of the first half with an injury to his lower left leg.

That injury essentially ended the senior's career as a college football player, and the proverbial torch was unofficially passed when freshman signal-caller Geno Smith took over in the third quarter.

When Brown was still at the helm, as it has several times this season, the Mountaineer offense came out of the gates strong. After taking the opening kickoff, WVU drove 72 yards on only eight plays for a score.

The air briefly came out of the team's sails on the seventh play of the possession, when a perfectly executed pass to a wide open Bradley Starks, set up after five straight runs, was overthrown by quarterback Brown.

The senior signal-caller redeemed himself on the next snap, finding a seam to his right and outrunning the entire Seminoles defense for a 32-yard touchdown. Tyler Bitancurt's point after kick made it 7-0 in favor of West Virginia only 3:15 into the game.

FSU's own potent offense seemed poise to earn a quick equalizer, as it took the ball at its own 41-yard line following a squib kickoff from the Mountaineers' Josh Lider and promptly drove to the WVU 5-yard line.

But Jermaine Thomas lost three yards on second-and-goal from that spot, and E.J. Manuel threw an incomplete pass into triple coverage on third down. Bowden and company settled for a 26-yard field goal from Dustin Hopkins and drew within 7-3.

It didn't seem as if field goals would be enough for Florida State when the Mountaineers promptly fired back. Noel Devine ran for 70 yards to the FSU 4-yard line on the second play of the ensuing drive, and ran into the end zone from one yard out two plays later.

It seemed as if the visitors had thoroughly crashed Bowden's massive retirement party (which saw the legendary coach receive a Toyota Camry instead of the customary gold watch before the game), but the ‘Noles began to rally.

After an exchange of punts and a 37-yard field goal miss by Hopkins, WVU seemed poised to add to its edge when Brown rushed for 27 yards on a second-and-15 play. But on the next snap, he badly underthrew Tavon Austin, allowing Florida State's Jamie Robinson to intercept the pass.

"It was a big, big play at that time," said WVU head coach Bill Stewart "That certainly didn't lose the game, but that interception was big. It hurt."

The Seminoles converted on the miscue, needing only seven plays to travel 61 yards, culminating in a 12-yard touchdown rush from Thomas to draw within 14-10. FSU never faced a third down on the drive and only had to convert on two second down plays.

? It looked like West Virginia was prepared to fire back, as the squad quickly reached the Florida State 22-yard line after Devine rushed for nine, 18 and 20 yards on successive plays. But the offense quickly became offensive from there.

Selvish Capers committed a holding penalty on first down. On the ensuing first-and-20, Brown was heavily pressured and threw the ball into the ground towards the feet of Devine. Officials flagged the quarterback for intentional grounding. Brown then rushed for no gain and was sacked for a loss of nine more yards on third down.

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Scott Kozlowski's 47-yard punt barely reached the first down marker on the fourth-and-43 that resulted.

Adding injury to that insult, Brown's lower left leg -- just above the ankle -- was hurt on the final sack, when Seminoles linebacker Dekoda Watson rolled up on the quarterback after the hit.

Brown's WVU career ended with that play, as the senior was forced to the sidelines with a 14-10 lead in his final game.

FSU managed to drive to the Mountaineers' 21-yard line on their next possession before trying to match their opponent's offensive problems.

Losses of one and five yards sandwiched around a holding penalty nearly forced the ‘Noles out of field goal range, but a third-and-27 pass from Manuel to Rod Owens gained 14 yards and allowed Hopkins to add a 42-yard field goal with eight seconds left in the half.

WVU held a tenuous 14-13 lead at the intermission, but that would not last long.

Greg Reid returned the opening kickoff of the second half 69 yards to the Mountaineers' 9-yard line. The West Virginia defense stiffened, aided partially by a false start penalty, and Hopkins added another three points with a 22-yard kick that gave FSU a 16-14 lead.

Smith's first drive under center seemed doomed early, but that quickly changed. On third-and-8 from his own 40-yard line, the freshman found Austin for a 19-yard catch and run. Another 30 yards were added to the play as a result of personal fouls for both a face mask and a late hit on Austin.

That moved the ball all the way to Florida State's 13-yard line, but a fumbled exchange between Smith and Devine on first down cost WVU seven yards. The offense couldn't recover, and Bitancurt's 33-yard field goal attempt sailed wide right.

Few things would go right for the Mountaineers from that point forward.

After an exchange of punts, FSU took over at its own 45-yard line. On the first play of the drive, Jarmon Fortson made a spectacular leaping, one-handed grab of a Manuel pass for 29 yards. Two plays later, Thomas ran in from 19 yards away to extend the lead for Bowden and company to 23-14.

To his credit, Smith remained composed. The quarterback threw completions of nine and seven yards to Starks on a pair of third downs on the ensuing possession, after a 34-yard Devine run on the first play of the drive helped turn field position in WVU's favor.

Ryan Clarke then powered in from five yards away on the first play of the fourth quarter, bringing the Mountaineers within 23-21.

But the man who took control of the Seminole program when the clock ran out continued to solve the puzzle that is the West Virginia defense.

Jimbo Fisher's offense promptly drove right back down field, taking just under six minutes off the clock with a 12-play, 81-yard effort that ended with a 2-yard Manuel rush for a touchdown.

That score with 8:54 remaining left little time for a comeback from the 30-21 deficit WVU faced, but a glimmer of hope returned when Mark Rodgers returned the ensuing kickoff 51 yards to the FSU 35-yard line.

But the freshman quarterback from Miramar, Fla., could not take advantage. Smith ran for two yards on first down and no gain on second down after being forced to recover his own fumble.

An incomplete pass on third down and a false start call against Don Barclay pushed the Mountaineers into a fourth-and-13, and Smith's deep pass to Wes Lyons fell incomplete.

Fisher's offense again took off on a clock-eating march, taking another 5:16 off the timer with an 11-play, 43-yard trip that ended in Hopkins' fourth and final field goal, this time from 37 yards away, that set the final margin at 33-21.

Manuel was 17-of 24 passing for 189 yards. He threw no touchdowns, no interceptions, and was not sacked while adding 70 more yards on the ground. For his efforts, he was named the game's Most Valuable Player.

Thomas carried the load for the 'Noles, rushing 25 times for 121 yards and a pair of scores. Fortson had game-highs in both receptions (four) and receiving yards (73).

For the Mountaineers, Devine ended the game with 168 yards and a score on 16 carries. Surprisingly, he had only five totes in the second half -- none of which came in the fourth quarter.

Smith was 8-of-15 passing for 92 yards, but he was sacked three times. Brown was sacked twice and hit only 1-of-4 passes for 15 yards, but he added 43 yards on the ground before being forced out of action.

"That was just a compliment that Geno did as well as he did," said Stewart. "There was an exchange problem one time.  You saw that down there where we didn't score.  And then there was a ball dropped here or there.  He missed a read, but the kid played pretty well."

In the end, the game was -- from start to finish -- all about Bowden.

The FSU coach went down the sidelines almost to one end zone with around two minutes left in the game, cheering along with fans who wanted to see their legendary coach off with a win.

They got their wish.

"(The end of the game) is the most emotional thing I have had," he said. "I was determined I ain't going to cry. I wasn't going to cry, I don't care what anybody says. The closest I came was when I walked through those players and fans (for the last time). That was pretty tough."

While most of college football was likely happy to see Bowden go out a winner, that didn't make defeat any easier for WVU to swallow.

"I don't like to lose," Stewart said. "(Bowden) taught me that."

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