TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- EJ Manuel rushed 22 yards into the end zone as the final seconds ticked off the clock. It was the final touchdown he'll score on his home field, but it meant nothing.
On the Florida sideline, purple Gatorade dripped off of Will Muschamp as his arms flailed in the signature chomping motion, his team surrounding him in euphoric celebration after the Gators' 37-26 victory Saturday.
On the FSU sideline, the search for consolation began. A bruised and battered team slumped off the field knowing so many opportunities had slipped away, and no one shouldered the burden more than Manuel.
"He was very emotional before the game, he was tore up during it," Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher said. "It meant a lot to him. He wanted to play very well, very badly. And sometimes you try too hard."
Manuel exchanged hugs with teammates and a handful of Florida players. Fans leaned perilously over the railings to offer encouraging slaps on his shoulder pads as he trudged through the tunnel and into the locker room. His teammates offered a staunch defense after it was over, calling Manuel "a warrior" and "a leader" without ever mentioning the four turnovers he coughed up.
It was the final time Manuel will play at Doak Campbell Stadium, a place he'd won 13 games as a starter, and it perfectly illustrated the dichotomy of his Florida State career -- hero and villain, savior and scapegoat, loved and hated.
Manuel was responsible for all three of Florida State's touchdowns Saturday, but he also threw three interceptions for the first time since 2009, the second start of his career.