TALLAHASSEE — Nine months ago, Florida State fans were anticipating a wild, raucous, festival-like atmosphere to descend upon their campus once this weekend arrived.
They couldn't have expected quite the circus that came to Doak Campbell Stadium on Saturday night.
"I've never had that occur in my career," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said at the start of a postgame news conference that followed one of the most bizarre finishes in college football history.
Issues with weather, lengthy debates among school, conference and NCAA officials, and a last-minute scheduling change combined to make Week 2 of the 2012 season one few in Tallahassee will soon forget.
Following a pair of lightning-induced weather delays, the sixth-ranked Seminoles' game against Football Championship Subdivision opponent Savannah State ended with 8:59 left in the third quarter. The result was a 55-0 Seminoles win.
According to a statement from FSU athletics director Randy Spetman, the game will be recorded as a complete game, and all statistics will count.
"It's easy for me to sit here and say I want to keep playing," Fisher said of the abbreviated finish. "But I understand the situation we're in. We've got bad weather coming, they're in a bus ride [back to Savannah] doing the things they do. But as a competitor, you want to keep playing."
The loss was Savannah State's second by way of shutout. The Tigers (0-2) fell to Oklahoma State 84-0 in Week 1. The Seminoles (2-0) that week beat Murray State, 69-3. They were well on their way to a similarly large blowout victory Saturday.
Savannah State coach Steve Davenport said numerous ideas were raised during a closed-door meeting with coaches, referees and officials from both schools. Among the options was declaring the game a tie.
"Obviously Florida State wasn't going for that," Davenport said. "That was my vote."
NCAA rules state that as long as game officials and the competing institutions are in agreement upon the outcome, the statistics of an abridged game can be upheld, and a winner and loser determined.
Immediately after the final lightning delay began at 8:52 p.m., there was confusion about the status of the game's conclusion in the stands and inside the press box.
Less than five minutes after head referee Walter Davenport informed spectators that lightning was spotted some eight miles away and that they needed to seek shelter, ESPN, the network which aired the game on its ESPN3.com online platform, declared the game final.
For another 40 minutes, reporters sat in the press box, told the game had not been officially called. Most fans left the stadium. Some stayed as Savannah State's marching band played songs from its perch in a corner of the South end zone stands.
Underneath the North end zone stands, inside FSU's home locker room, the Seminoles patiently waited for their coaches to inform them of their next moves.
"A lot of us older guys were trying to rest our bodies up for that big start against Wake Forest next week," sophomore defensive back Karlos Williams said. "A lot of those young guys wanted to go back out there to get that contact in and get a better feel for the game."
FSU hosts Wake Forest at noon next Saturday in its ACC opener. The Demon Deacons beat conference and in-state rival North Carolina on Saturday, 28-27.
While some players rested, others were keeping busy in other ways.
"We were talking to our coaches, and if we weren't talking to our coaches, we were thinking about what we were going to do when we came back out," redshirt freshman Jacob Coker said. "They had some snacks and drinks for us. That's about it."
At 9:34 p.m., 42 minutes after the final delay, the game was declared official.
The weather delays began at 7:24 p.m., when lightning in the area forced officials to briefly stop action. The first stoppage came with the Seminoles driving for their eighth touchdown of the game with about four minutes left in the second quarter. Fifty-six minutes later, the Seminoles and Tigers came back out on the field with new playing rules.
Halftime was shortened from 20 minutes to 10. The rest of the game — from the final four minutes of the second quarter on — would be under a running clock format.
Moments after the players returned from the abbreviated halftime, FSU scored that elusive eighth touchdown. Redshirt freshman Kelvin Benjamin hauled in a 19-yard touchdown pass from Coker. It was Benjamin's second touchdown reception of the game.
"Once it's in the air, I'm going to get it," Benjamin said.
Just as the Seminoles and Tigers were attempting to dodge second and third waves of storms and weather bands, their second- and third-string players were trying to make key plays.
About three minutes after Benjamin's score, the second delay started, just as highly-touted true freshmen defensive ends Mario Edwards, Jr. and Chris Casher were getting into the ballgame.
"That's the thing that disappoints me," Fisher said. "We didn't see those guys like we wanted to."
Two of the most prized recruits of the 2012 recruiting class, Edwards and Casher had their redshirt status stripped two days before the game. With senior defensive end Brandon Jenkins out for the season with a foot injury, the young backups were looking for playing time to help shore up depth at the position.
From the last 28 seconds of the first quarter forward, the Seminoles were playing with their backups on defense. During their first drive of the second quarter, the Seminoles had inserted their backup offensive players.
By the end of the game, the Seminoles had outgained Savannah State in total yards, 413 to 28.
Starting quarterback EJ Manuel was among those who left by the start of the second quarter. On 13 passing attempts, he completed 11 passes for 161 yards and three touchdowns.
This game was scheduled after defending Orange Bowl winner West Virginia this offseason canceled the game it had previously scheduled with the Seminoles as it made a move to the Big 12 Conference this year.
Following the cancellation, the Seminoles scrambled to add a non-conference game. After FSU reached out to more than 70 teams, Savannah State agreed to play in Tallahassee this weekend.
FSU will pay the Tigers $475,000 for the appearance by next February.