Gators give Zook big win over FSU in final game
Nov. 20, 2004
SportsLine.com wire reports
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- This one was for The Zooker.
Chris Leak threw a touchdown, Ciatrick Fason ran for a score, and Florida upset No. 10 Florida State 20-13 to win in Tallahassee for the first time since 1986.
It also gave fired coach Ron Zook a victory in his final regular-season game.
Condemned since the day he replaced Steve Spurrier in 2002, Zook finally did something the ol' ball coach didn't in his 12 glorious seasons with the Gators. He won at Florida State.
The players carried Zook off the field, and the coach flashed a big smile that had been missing for much of his three seasons.
"I congratulated them for a great job, a great effort," Zook said he told his players after the game. "I thanked them for just hanging in there and not quitting."
The Gators (7-4) ended any legitimate chance the Seminoles had of earning a third straight Bowl Championship Series berth. Florida State (8-3) still could finish tied for the Atlantic Coast Conference title but probably would lose all tiebreaker scenarios because of its BCS ranking, which is expected to drop Monday.
Florida also spoiled a special night for longtime Seminoles coach Bobby Bowden. Before the game, the school named its playing surface "Bobby Bowden Field" and unveiled a 20-by-30 foot stained glass window at the stadium featuring Bowden's likeness.
Spurrier --- 0-5-1 in six trips to Tallahassee -- must have loved the upset, too.
The Gators threw with relative ease against Florida State's vaunted defense. Leak finished 19-for-39 for 231 yards with an interception.
"He's very mature for a sophomore," Bowden said. "He plays like a senior. He did a great job."
Fason's 8-yard touchdown run with 4:59 remaining put the Gators ahead for good.
"I saw a lot of guys leaving everything on the field and we won it for Coach," Fason said. "I think this will help him in looking for a job."
Zook's farewell fairy tale almost turned into a redemption story for Florida State, though.
Embattled quarterback Chris Rix came off the bench and threw a touchdown pass with 8:30 to play that cut the lead to 13-10.
He rolled right and heaved a pass into the end zone that Chauncey Stovall caught over Vernell Brown. The pass was reminiscent of Rix's 52-yard touchdown pass to P.K. Sam with 55 seconds remaining last season that gave the Seminoles a 38-34 win.
Rix also drove the Seminoles to the 18-yard line in the waning seconds, but his last pass was intercepted by Jarvis Harris with 8 seconds to play. Rix finished 9-of-16 for 150 yards.
"He brought us back and nearly pulled it out," Bowden said. "He came in and made a big play, like he did last year against them. But we needed to make one more."
Florida players then grabbed a bucket of water and drenched Zook. They quickly surrounded him and started jumping up and down as they hoisted him into the air and carried him toward midfield. After he shook hands with Bowden and did a few interviews, the players raised him up again and carried him off.
Zook pumped his right fist and then held the game ball up high as he exited into a tunnel.
After the game, he again said he hasn't decided whether to coach the bowl game.
"There have been so many things go through my mind the last month," Zook said. "I just love these players and I'm so happy and I'm so proud of them. I can't say enough for them, about them or how good they are. Young guys get better. The only way you get better is play."
Florida State starter Wyatt Sexton was 9-of-23 passing for 88 yards in the first half, but Bowden resisted the temptation to make a change at halftime - even though Rix has tormented the Gators.
The senior completed 61 percent of his passes for 679 yards with six touchdowns and one interception the last three years against the Gators, winning the past two games.
But after Sexton threw an interception late in the third quarter, Bowden made the move. Sexton was 14-of-32 for 164 yards and was sacked three times.
Rix completed his first two passes and drove the Seminoles into field goal range. But Gary Cismesia missed a 32-yarder. Cismesia, who had been perfect in seven tries since replacing senior Xavier Beitia midway through the season, also missed from 39 yards out on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Beitia got the call after the second miss and nailed a career-high 52-yard field goal with 3:48 remaining that made it a seven-point game.
Zook - with nothing to lose since he was fired last month - made a gutsy call with 2:35 to play and gambled on fourth-and-inches from the Florida 26. Had the play failed, the Seminoles would have been in great position to tie the game.
But Leak got the first down on a quarterback keeper.
"I asked the offensive line if they could get 6 inches and they said yes," Zook said.
The Gators eventually were forced to punt, but the time taken off the clock left little time for Rix to engineer the tying score.
"The first thing that comes to mind is missed opportunities," Bowden said. "Zook did an excellent job, their quarterback did an excellent job and we couldn't make enough plays to beat them. They probably made one more play than we did."
The Associated Press News Service
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