Thursday, September 9, 2004
FSU's Beitia back in the spotlight
By Doug Carlson Special to ESPN.com
When you're on the way to becoming your school's career scoring leader, and you're one of the most accurate field-goal kickers ever to wear the uniform, you don't expect this kind of thing.
Venomous e-mails and threatening phone calls from your own fans? That speaks to the heartburn Florida State kickers have spread in Seminole Nation over the years through botched opportunities against rival Miami.
He wasn't the first to miss one against the Hurricanes (far from it), but Florida State senior Xavier Beitia has had the misfortune of missing twice in what has been possibly the most significant rivalry in college football the last 20 years.
Some haven't forgiven him. And probably won't unless he is called upon again, and comes through, when the sixth-ranked Seminoles and fifth-ranked Hurricanes meet again Friday at the Orange Bowl, this time as fellow members of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
At Florida State, kickers have come to be judged a little differently. It's not what have you done lately? It's what have you done against Miami? Or, more to the point, what have you done in the waning moments against Miami?
Including the first Wide Right episode in 1991, four FSU kickers have combined to miss five field goal attempts that would have tied or won in the final minutes, or seconds, against Miami. That's in a span of 14 games.
"I don't know of another series like that,'' Florida State coach Bobby Bowden said. "I've followed the Alabama-Auburn series, I've followed Georgia-Georgia Tech, I've followed the Michigan-Ohio State series, I've followed the Southern Cal-UCLA, the Oklahoma-Nebraska. ... I don't remember them coming down to field-goal misses. Maybe hitting, but not missing.
"Dang, we done had about four or five of them -- it's unbelievable.''
Two years ago, Beitia pulled a 43-yarder just left of the uprights on the final play at the Orange Bowl, sending with it Florida State's hopes of knocking off the No. 1-ranked Hurricanes. He sobbed uncontrollably in the locker room afterward, but never mentioned the grass-high snap and the lopsided placement that played a part in the miss.
Then, in a game that somehow didn't seem quite as important, he missed a 39-yarder (wide right) with 5:30 remaining in last January's Orange Bowl Classic. Miami lived to laugh once more, 16-14.
"Now, we miss a field goal the end of the game and lose? I nearly walk back to the dressing room thinking, 'Well, knew that was gonna happen. Happens every year,'" Bowden said.
Beitia, at least, steps into the cauldron again on Friday still optimistic, judging by the expression on his face when asked about it. But after daring fate to give him a second chance against the Hurricanes prior to the bowl rematch, he's going stealthily.
"This year I just want to talk with my foot and not with my mouth,'' he said.
"He's ready,'' assures senior backup punter Brett Cimorelli, who owned the kicking job at FSU on and off in 2000 before Beitia showed up in '01, took the starting job and never let it go.
Beitia missed only once in 14 field-goal attempts as a freshman. He's made 51-of-67 in three years (76.1 percent) and is 96 points away from overtaking Derek Schmidt as the school career scoring leader.
"It's funny, Beitia is one of the most accurate kickers we've ever had at Florida State,'' Bowden said. "He's been so accurate, but missed the ones against Miami, man.''
Fully exasperated, Bowden tried other approaches leading up to this week's game.
He gave approval to recruiting coordinator John Lilly after the Orange Bowl to recruit another kicker, but only if it was somebody good enough to challenge for Beitia's job.
Though FSU hadn't planned on signing another specialist (they already had Beitia and redshirt freshman Chase Goggans on scholarship), they added a third. Gary Cismesia, a strong-legged kicker from Bradenton, had committed to Georgia Tech, but happily reversed course when the Seminoles offered.
During preseason camp, Bowden purposely alluded to the uncertainty of Beitia's status.
Asked if he would have confidence in Beitia if another game-winning opportunity against Miami beckoned, Bowden responded, "Yeah, unless the other kid (Cismesia) was kicking better in practice.''
Of course, some of it -- maybe all of it -- was for motivational purposes. Would Bowden truly opt for an untested freshman over the well-seasoned (fried and barbecued, even) Beitia?
The answer came last week when Bowden named Beitia a team captain.
"I believe it won't have to come down to (a field goal) this game,'' quarterback Chris Rix said with his signature foolhardiness. "But if it does I'm confident he'll do his job.''
Bowden isn't ruling out calling Beitia's name once more. Nor is he resigned to incoherent mumbling on the way to the dressing room.
"I always believe in that law of averages, but the good Lord is not listening,'' Bowden said. "One of these days that ball is gonna go through there.''
Doug Carlson covers the ACC for the Tampa Tribune.