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Florida State Holds Off Vick and Virginia Tech, 46-29, for National Title

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It took 34 years and a heart-in-his-throat scare from the opposing quarterback, but, for once, Florida State Coach Bobby Bowden is perfect.

Not picture perfect.

But 12-0 perfect.

After blowing a three-touchdown first-half lead, Florida State scored 18 unanswered fourth-quarter points Tuesday night to defeat Virginia Tech, 46-29, to win the national championship before a Sugar Bowl crowd of 79,280 at the Superdome.

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Finally, Bowden bagged his bagel. His head coaching career began at Samford University in 1959. Ten times his teams at Samford, West Virginia and Florida State finished with one-loss seasons. Bowden was tortured by last-second kicks by Miami in 1991 and ’92 but, at age 70, he has finished a season unscathed.

Tuesday’s win was the 304th in his career and earned Bowden his second national title, the other coming in 1993.

Lord knows what Bowden was thinking when he watched his team’s 28-7 lead evaporate. Virginia Tech, led by sensational quarterback Michael Vick, cut the lead to 28-14 at the half and then blitzed Florida State with a 15-0 third quarter that gave the Hokies the lead, 29-28, on Andre Kendrick’s four-yard touchdown run with 2:13 left.

“We had a moment of truth in the third quarter, when they were fixin’ to win the ball game,” Bowden said. “And our kids came back to score.”

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It will be long remembered in Florida State lore.

After losing the lead, and all the momentum, the Seminoles drove 85 yards in 11 plays, and reclaimed the lead early in the fourth quarter when quarterback Chris Weinke threw a 14-yard scoring pass to Ron Dugans.

Weinke’s successful two-point conversion pass to Peter Warrick gave Florida State a 36-29 lead.

Sebastian Janikowski added a 32-yard field and, as a capper, with the Superdome crowd shouting “Pe-ter Warrick,” Weinke hit Warrick with a 43-yard touchdown pass with 7:42 left to clinch the game.

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The final act of a great game was almost scripted.

“I asked the offense, ‘You all want me to finish it?’ ” Warrick said. “And I did.”

Finally, Warrick found some measure of redemption. He had only one catch in last year’s title-game loss to Tennessee and became the subject of scorn this year when he was arrested in a department store clothing scam.

Tuesday, Warrick had two touchdowns receptions, returned a punt 59 yards for a score, had six catches for 163 yards and was named the game’s most valuable player.

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Warrick didn’t win the Heisman Trophy, didn’t win the Biletnikoff Award, didn’t win much public sympathy, but Tuesday night he proved he was the best player in the country.

Afterward, he was contrite, and respectful.

“I know I can’t please everybody in life,” Warrick said. “I’ve been through a lot of adversity, but I bounced back, put it behind me. I know a lot of kids look up to me. I know I’ll never make that mistake again.”

Finally, Weinke, the 27-year-old junior, got to lead Florida State when it counted, a year after he missed the national title game because of a career-threatening neck injury and 10 years after he first arrived at Florida State before leaving to pursue a career in baseball.

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“For me, personally, this is something I’ve been waiting for,” Weinke said. “I had to sit on the sidelines last year and watch this. That left a sour taste in my mouth for 12 months.”

If this was Weinke’s last game--he’ll decide this week whether he will forgo his senior year to turn pro--it was a night to remember.

He completed 20 of 34 passes for 329 yards with four touchdowns and an interception.

But he’ll most remember leading his team to a comeback victory.

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“We came back,” Weinke said. “That shows the character of this football team. Maybe this team needs to get behind to become focused.”

It didn’t have to be a close game.

Florida State led 21-7 in the second quarter when Warrick took Jimmy Kibble’s punt on one bounce, juked Hokie Larry Austin, and raced 59 yards for a touchdown to put the Seminoles up 28-7.

Then came the turning point in the game.

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With 6:09 left in the half, the Florida State defense pinned Virginia Tech deep in its end and forced a punt.

The Seminoles took over at the Hokies’ 34 when another touchdown could have demoralized Virginia Tech headed into halftime.

But the Hokies’ defense pushed the Seminoles out of field goal range, forced a punt, and Vick’s three-yard run with 37 seconds left in the half cut the lead to 14.

The Hokies fed off the momentum and dominated the third quarter.

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“We made a great comeback,” Hokie Coach Frank Beamer said. “We let them come back, or they came back. You have to give them credit.”

Vick was sensational, passing for 225 yards and rushing for 97 yards in 23 carries.

But the night belonged to Bowden.

“It means a lot to bring that victory home for him,” Weinke said.

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Bowden said this team has to go down as his best.

“I’ve never had one go undefeated,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of 11-1’s that are going to come in second.”

Bowden has never been prouder of a team.

“It was only fitting that to win the national championship, we did it the way we did,” he said. “Coming from behind. Our kids showed national championship character coming from behind.”

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The win is going to take a while to sink in.

“It’s a milestone,” he said. “I could’ve gone the rest of my life and not had it happen.”

It happened.

In fact, Bowden has been waiting most of his life for this moment. On his desk, he has kept an empty picture frame, waiting to fill it with the team photo from his first undefeated team.

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“I’ve already got the picture,” Bowden chuckled after the game. "[Athletic Director] Dave Hart gave me a picture of the team this week. When I get back, I’ll hang that picture in the office.”

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

BY THE NUMBERS

WINNING PCT.

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IN THE 1990s*

1. Florida St.: 109-13-0, .893

2. Nebraska: 109-16-1, .869

3. Florida: 102-22-0, .823

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4. Tennessee: 99-23-2, .806

5. Penn St.: 98-26-0, .790

6. Michigan: 94-26-3, .776

7. Miami: 93-27-0, .775

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8. Texas A&M;: 94-29-1, .762

9. Ohio St.: 91-29-3, .752

10. Kansas St.: 88-30-1, .744

* Minimum five years as a Division I-A school; includes 2000 Fiesta and Sugar bowls

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*

ALL-TIME

BOWL WINNING PCT.

1. Bobby Bowden: 17-5-1, .761

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2. Bobby Dodd: 9-4-0, .692

3. Joe Paterno: 20-9-1, .683

4. Don James: 10-5-0, .667

5. Terry Donahue: 8-4-1, .654

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*

MOST NATIONAL

CHAMPIONSHIPS

No.--School Last

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8--Notre Dame: 1978

7--Alabama: 1992

6--Oklahoma: 1985

5--USC: 1978

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5--Nebraska: 1997

4--Miami: 1991

4--Minnesota: 1960

4--Ohio State: 1968

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3--Texas: 1970

2--Army: 1945

2--Michigan: 1997

2--Penn State: 1986

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2--Pittsburgh: 1976

2--Michigan State: 1965

2--Tennessee: 1998

2--Florida State: 1999

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Note: Shared championships count

BATTLE FOR No. 1

SUGAR BOWL

*--*

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Virginia Tech 7 7 15 0 29 Florida St. 14 14 0 18 46

*--*

* LASTING IMPRESSIONS

There were many big stories in the college football season. But in the end it belonged to Bobby Bowden and Florida State. Page 7

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* TV REVIEW

ABC got what it wanted--a competitive game. And even Brent Musburger and all the Bowdens in the world couldn’t ruin that. Page 6


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