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FSU overcomes bizarre conditions to claim third-straight rivalry win over Miami

Florida State SeminolesMiami HurricanesSportsFootballFlorida GatorsNorth Carolina State WolfpackAtlantic Coast Conference

MIAMI GARDENS — Little did those cramming the parking lots outside Sun Life Stadium on Saturday afternoon know, but they were helping set the scene for what was to come on the inside later in the evening.

An area filled with a raucous, rowdy collection of fans influenced by the smells of burning meats and free-flowing liquids, the spaces in the stadium's immediate shadow were filled with sights this South Florida community had not seen in a long string of Saturdays.

There were people, lots of them.

There also was disorder.

Cars were queued into lanes that could have caused them to collide with high frequency. Others, directed in the wrong locations, were led through tailgates, nearly rubbing their doors along the sides of grills, ice chests and bodies. It was college football pregame chaos.

On the field inside the building hours later, a similar scene played out as officials, security and coaches had trouble keeping the normal peace of an ordinary football game.

Perhaps that's because there never is anything routine about this rivalry contest. Each year Florida State and Miami meet, something unusual happens. This season was no different.

"That was a Florida State-Miami game, wasn't it?" FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said, laughing as he began his post-game news conference. "There's always excitement.

"We overcame a lot of things."

Fighting issues with fumbles, fans, injuries and penalties, the No. 14 Seminoles beat their rival Hurricanes, 33-20. The win extended their series winning streak to three games. They also have now won the last four meetings in Miami, and have claimed victories in the last four games they have played the Hurricanes and fellow rival Florida Gators.

"That's tough," FSU kicker Dustin Hopkins said. "I don't know the number, but I'm sure not too many teams have done that."

Only two teams in school history have now beaten Miami and Florida five consecutive times.

FSU now has a 7-1 overall record and is 4-1 in ACC play. Unranked Miami, desperate for a win and looking for the upset, dropped to 4-4 overall and 3-2 in the conference.

With the win, the Seminoles also earned bowl eligibility for the 31st straight season. Their consecutive bowl streak is the longest active string of postseason appearances.

"I'm glad we're going to be in a bowl game this year," Hopkins said.

With just less than half of the season remaining, the Seminoles will soon find themselves courted by bowls in Miami, Orlando and Atlanta, among others.

Thanks to a 17-point fourth quarter that included Devonta Freeman's dominating rushing perfomance, the Seminoles staved off a sluggish start and ended up muscling their way to the wide-margined win.

A sophomore and Miami native, Freeman was playing about a month after his cousin, Anthony Darling, was shot and killed in South Florida. His trip home for Saturday's game was his first since Darling was buried. Freeman was so close to him that he considered him his brother.

"During the game, I just set it aside, and I just talked to him after the game," Freeman said. "I just wanted to let him know that was for him and God."

Playing mostly in the second half after the first-half injury of starting tailback Chris Thompson, Freeman rushed for 69 yards on 10 carries. His 4-yard touchdown run with about 11 minutes remaining in the game proved to be the back-breaking blow. His 5-yard touchdown run about eight minutes later was the haymaker.

"Devonta was toting that thing," Hopkins said. "He was running well. Given the hardships you go through. Just a good game can't make up for losses like he's had, but at the same time, when you have a good game, it can take so much off your shoulders, especially when you do it in front of family and friends."

Freeman said he had 14 people in attendance.

Three games ago, the Seminoles were criticized for their inability to score in the final 30 minutes of a game.

Against NC State, they were shut out in the last two quarters as the Wolfpack rallied from down 16 to win 17-16.

In the first half Saturday, they appeared to be headed toward their second loss.

"We had a rough start, but we picked it up in the second half," FSU quarterback EJ Manuel said.

Manuel added that the Seminoles started protecting the ball better in the second half. After having a rough showing on its first two series, their defense showed up across the end of the game. By the end of the night, FSU's defenders recorded four sacks and held the Hurricanes to a mild 29 yards rushing.

Turnovers were a problem for both teams all game. In the first half alone, the Seminoles fumbled the ball five times. They lost it twice. Miami had another two fumbles and an interception.

One of FSU's fumbles, a drop by tight end Nick O'Leary on the Seminoles' first offensive play, led to a Miami score. Mike James' 9-yard touchdown run began the scoring and put the Hurricanes up early.

That lead eventually grew to 10-0 before the Seminoles snapped to life.

Given their troubles and apparent bad luck to that point in the game, seeing the Seminoles bounce back may have been a surprise to some.

With Miami holding a 10-3 lead, Thompson, the team's senior tailback was run from the game early in the second quarter with a left knee injury. After the game, Fisher said he couldn't comment on Thompson's knee. The training staff wanted to review an MRI over the weekend. They should know more about the injury Monday.

Last year, Thompson's junior season was ruined when he suffered a season-ending back injury in the Seminoles' fifth game.

"We all [the rest of the running backs] said we were going to hold down the rest of the game for Chris," James Wilder Jr. said. "We all put on our [wrist] tape, 'C.T. 4.' We just dedicated that game to him."

A trio of running backs, headed by Freeman and Wilder, replaced Thompson. On the same drive Thompson left the game, Wilder tied it at 10 with a 17-yard touchdown run.

Penalties also were an issue for both teams. FSU had 12 for 121 yards, while Miami had four for 25.

At the 6:24 mark in the first quarter, a Hurricanes fan replicated the pregame scene outside the stadium by wreaking his own havoc. He jumped from the wall behind FSU's bench and raced onto the field during a play before taking off his orange shirt and waving it at fans.

He was immediately tackled by security personnel. The play also was upheld.

"Freeman was telling me before the game, he said, 'Man, there are some crazy fans down here,'" Wilder said. "I promise you, he said, 'Somebody is probably going to go out here and act crazy.' I'm not supporting it, but that's always awesome to see as far as fans having fun."

coharvey@tribune.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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