A Real Rocky-Topper
Tee Martin and Peerless Price, shining when the tedium of the game threatened to overtake this highly anticipated matchup, lifted the Tennessee Volunteers to a national title here Monday night.
Two deep passes from Martin to Price, the last one a 79-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter, provided No. 1 Tennessee with all the offense it needed (and about the only offense it got) in a 23-16 victory over No. 2 Florida State before 80,470 at the Fiesta Bowl at Sun Devil Stadium.
For long periods, these two high-profile teams played some low-rung football, turning the first unified national-title bowl game into grungy field-position battle.
Tennessee’s conservative offensive plan did not help to cover up its jumpiness.
Florida State’s wide-open philosophy only made its mistakes more wounding.
By the fourth quarter, this national championship game was, as it started, left up to the unsteady arms of the starting quarterbacks, Marcus Outzen and Martin, of Florida State and Tennessee, respectively.
It was Martin, the unheralded junior who replaced Peyton Manning, who came through for the 13-0 Volunteers, whose last national title was in 1951.
Florida State fell to 11-2.
The Martin-to-Price game-sealer came when Florida State appeared to have gained the momentum, and the Seminoles were trailing, 14-9.
On the first play after a Seminole punt, Martin lobbed deep down the right sideline and Price leaped to catch it for a touchdown with 9:17 left in the game.
Outzen fumbled the ball away on Florida State’s next possession.
After a scoreless, penalty-marred first quarter, the Seminoles’ sloppiness began to take a punishing toll early in the second.
To set up the first score of the game, Florida State’s defense yielded a 76-yard pass from Martin to Price, down to the Seminole 12.
Then, when Tennessee was settling for a field goal, Florida State’s Dexter Jackson crashed into kicker Jeff Hall, for a roughing-the-kicker personal foul (Florida State’s second of the game).
The Volunteers took the penalty (wiping away Hall’s 24-yard field goal) and, two plays later, Martin found fullback Shawn Bryson in the left flat for a four-yard touchdown less than a minute into the second quarter.
Then disaster hit the Seminoles.
On Florida State’s ensuing possession, Outzen floated a deep out pass intended for Peter Warrick that was picked off by Tennessee’s Dwayne Goodrich.
Goodrich ran untouched 54 yards for a touchdown and a 14-0 Volunteer lead.