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It’s been 25 years since Florida State claimed its first national championship. The 1993 team delivered FSU college football’s ultimate prize for the first time. In a multi-part series commemorating the silver anniversary of Florida State’s first title team, we’ll be remembering that season with five former players who played a prominent role in the team’s success.
After being forced to sit out in a 49-20 win over Maryland with a side injury, quarterback Charlie Ward was ready to go as the top-ranked Seminoles made the long trip to South Bend, Indiana to take on No. 2 Notre Dame in a contest dubbed, “The Game of the Century”.
For the first time ever, ESPN’s College Gameday was live on the scene. To that point in the year, FSU was 9-0 and no team had come closer than 18 points. The second-ranked Fighting Irish were also 9-0 with their only true test being a 27-23 road win at Michigan early in the season.
“To that point, we hadn’t been in a dog fight and Notre Dame had,” said Clay Shiver, the team’s starting center at the time. “That made a big difference that day.”
Early on, it looked as though Florida State’s domination would continue. After starting at their own 11-yard-line, Ward methodically marched the Seminoles 89 yards in 10 plays. The drive was capped with a 12-yard touchdown strike from the redshirt senior to wide receiver Kevin Knox.
“I can tell you that in that game, things were kind of crazy,” Shiver said. “We took the first drive down the field and punched it right in. That was the worst thing that could have happened to us. I remember thinking that it was going to be just like any other game. It was literally too easy.”
The opening drive touchdown would end up being Florida State’s only score of the first half. Notre Dame drew things even on the ensuing Fighting Irish drive on a 32-yard touchdown scamper by Adrian Jarrell.
“We had the big head,” Clifton Abraham, a redshirt junior cornerback on the 1993 team, said. “That was one of the weirdest games I have ever been in. No matter what we did, they seemed to have an answer. (Notre Dame head coach) Lou Holtz was a wizard.”
With less than 11 minutes to play in the second quarter, Lee Becton scored on a 26-yard rushing touchdown to put Notre Dame ahead, 14-7, and it wound up leading the rest of the way. After Ward’s second interception of the year, the Fighting Irish managed to double their lead on a 6-yard touchdown run by Jeff Burris to make it 21-7 at the break. Early on the third quarter, Notre Dame extended the lead to 24-7 on a career-long 47-yard field goal by Kevin Pendergast.
“Once they got going, the momentum shifted,” said Shiver, who was tasked with blocking the likes of Bryant Young and Jim Flanigan. “When there’s momentum like they had going against you, there’s nothing you can do about it. Everybody could feel it. By the time we finally got the wheels back on the bus, we had run out of time.”
Down 17 points early in the fourth quarter, the Seminoles wouldn’t go quietly. With less than five minutes to play in the third quarter, Ward’s second touchdown pass of the day — a 6-yard toss to Warrick Dunn — drew the deficit back to 10. FSU cut that lead to 24-17 on a short field goal by Scott Bentley with less than 11 minutes to play in the contest.
On the ensuing Notre Dame drive however, it looked as though the Fighting Irish had put the contest away as Burris rushed it in from 11 yards out to extend the lead back to 14. With less than three minutes to play, the contest appeared to be a lost cause as FSU faced 4th-and-goal from the 20-yard-line of the Fighting Irish. Ward’s pass went straight toward Notre Dame safety Brian Magee, but Magee could not coral it. The ball was batted into the air before landing into the hands of Kez McCorvey with 2:26 remaining.
Trailing 31-24, an onside kick attempt for FSU was unsuccessful, but it would get the ball back with less than a minute to play. Ward was able to march the Seminoles from their own 37-yard-line to the Notre Dame 14 with 10 seconds remaining. Each of his final two throws into the end zone however, were batted down.
The final from South Bend: Notre Dame 31, Florida State 24.
“I think we had started to smell ourselves a little bit coming into that game,” said Derrick Brooks, a junior linebacker who had an All-American season for FSU in 1993. “We did a couple of small things that were out of character for us. We were humbled in South Bend.”
FSU outgained Notre Dame with 403 yards to the Fighting Irish’s 347, but two turnovers to none for the Irish was a difference-maker. Ward passed for 297 yards in the loss. McCorvey finished with 11 catches for 138 yards.
“People were disappointed,” McCorvey said. “Things didn’t happen the way we wanted. Coach (Bobby) Bowden came in the locker room and just tried to keep our heads up.”