BLACKSBURG, Va. -- Shh. Don’t tell Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher that his No. 10 Seminoles didn’t look like a top-10 team for much of Thursday night.
Don’t even insinuate it.
Because in the end, it really didn’t matter.
Fisher, quarterback EJ Manuel, and probably everyone else within the program left Lane Stadium on Thursday night deservedly ecstatic and validated by their 28-22 come-from-behind victory against a gritty Virginia Tech team that refused to quit. It was an important win not only for the ACC, but also for the Seminoles (9-1, 6-1 ACC), who are now just one win away from clinching the Atlantic Division title for the second time under Fisher. Florida State reached 9-1 for the first time since the 2000 team played for a national championship.
Much like the stunning 17-16 loss at NC State on Oct. 6, it was another down-to-the-wire thriller, but this time, Florida State avoided another disaster on the road in the final minute of the game.
“We had all kinds of mistakes, there’s no doubt,” Fisher said. “You’ll fix 'em and go on. But you come in here on a Thursday night and win, guys. I’m not disappointed at all. To go 9-1, and be right here and beat Virginia Tech on a Thursday night here. We can criticize everything we want to criticize, but we came in and won a football game and did a heck of a job competing in the game.”
Florida State proved it can win on the road outside of the state of Florida. This was arguably FSU's toughest road trip of the year, but the Noles made it more difficult than it had to be.
An astounding minus-15 yards rushing by the No. 14 rushing offense in the country? No problem -- the Noles came up with enough big pass plays.
Two turnovers? Small potatoes. The Hokies (4-6, 2-4 ACC) couldn’t convert them into points.
Five sacks? No sweat. Manuel delivered in the clutch.
Only 3-of-14 on third downs? James Wilder Jr.’s fourth-down conversion on the game-winning drive was bigger.
“People might look and see we didn’t execute on a lot of things, and we have to go back and fix those things, but that being said, Virginia Tech, historically, they’ve always played well on Thursday nights, especially at home,” FSU kicker Dustin Hopkins said. “I expect more from our guys, and I know everybody else in the locker room does, it’s not just me saying that, but at the same time it does feel good to come out of Lane Stadium with a win, because it’s not easy.”
Even against a Virginia Tech team in the midst of its worst season in 20 years. The Hokies have lost three straight and five of their past six.
Yet somehow they looked like the preseason Coastal Division favorites many expected them to be this season.
That shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, considering the Hokies are 11-3 in Thursday night games, and Lane Stadium is one of the most unforgiving road venues in all of college football. Virginia Tech's defense played its best game of the season.
“I told our teammates you’re not going to see the same team you see on film,” Manuel said. “Virginia Tech is always going to be up and ready to play, especially us. And me being from Virginia, I know those guys, they want to beat me. I’m just so happy for our team, ecstatic."
With 40 seconds remaining, FSU receiver Rashad Greene took what probably should have been an 8-yard catch and instead sprinted 39 yards downfield to give the Noles a 28-22 lead. It was a situation and a scenario the team has practiced numerous times, in its two-minute drills at practice every Thursday.
“When I told them what we were going to call and do, they said, ‘That’s just like Thursday,’” Fisher said. “I said, ‘You’re right, here we go.’”
The defense, which had underperformed for much of the game (Tech had 385 total yards and 5.5 yards per play), came up with its most crucial stop when Tyler Hunter intercepted Logan Thomas with 27 seconds remaining.
Virginia Tech’s defense blitzed over and over and over again, leaving the Hokies’ defensive backs on an island, and eventually, Florida State exposed that. In a live-by-the-sword, die-by-the-sword gamble, defensive coordinator Bud Foster went with man coverage on the Seminoles’ final touchdown drive. For the majority of the night, though, the Hokies had the better defense.
Until the final minute.
The Noles have now beaten the top three teams from the Coastal Division most likely to earn a spot in the ACC championship game: Miami, Duke and Virginia Tech.
They’re not quite ready, though, to take the crown.
“We’ve got to go win a game at Maryland,” Fisher said. “I don’t ever feel like we’ve got anything wrapped up. I’ve been in this long enough to know that. No matter how you play somebody, a second time makes a difference. I just hope we get that opportunity.”
With the win over Virginia Tech, FSU got one step closer to it.