The Daily Nole

30-Year Nole Anniversary: FSU Outlasts Nebraska in Fiesta Bowl

Peter Read Miller /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images

Most Florida State fans are aware of the unbelievable string of top 5 finishes that FSU was able to compile from the late 1980s to the early parts of the new millennium. The Seminoles completed that feat every season from 1987 through 2000, but the win that jump-started the streak took place on this day 30 years ago.

The Seminoles were ranked third in the country as they arrived in Tempe for the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 1, 1988. The opponent was one of college football’s blue bloods in No. 5 Nebraska. The schools came in with identical 10-1 records with the only losses coming to rivals.

The lone blemish for FSU was a 26-25 loss to rival and eventual national champion Miami. The only team to beat Nebraska was Oklahoma, who topped the Cornhuskers in Lincoln, 17-7.

Early on, the Seminoles looked to be no match. Nebraska raced to an early 14-0 lead on a touchdown run by Keith Jones and a 52-yard punt return for a score by Dana Brinson. In quarter No. 2 however, it looked like FSU had seized control.

FSU quarterback Danny McManus passed for 375 yards in the victory, which included second-quarter touchdown passes to Herb Gainer of 10 and 25 yards. The two scores were sandwiched around a short touchdown run by Dayne Williams and the Seminoles went to the locker room with a 21-14 advantage.

The third quarter belonged to the Cornhuskers as Steve Taylor and Tyreese Knox rushed for touchdowns. All FSU could muster during the period was a 32-yard field goal midway through by Derek Schmidt, which put it ahead at the time 24-21. Knox’s 4-yard run with 40 seconds to go in the period gave Nebraska a 28-24 lead after three quarters.

After looking like a hero in the third, Knox made a huge error in the fourth as Nebraska looked like it was going in for the score that would put the game away. With the ball at the FSU 2-yard-line, Knox coughed it up and the Seminoles recovered.

McManus proceeded to take FSU 97 yards for the winning score. That came on the most improbable of plays.

After reaching the Nebraska 2-yard-line, FSU went backwards to the 18 on a penalty. Facing 4th-and-goal from the 15-yard-line, McManus delivered a perfect scoring strike to Ronald Lewis that put the Seminoles ahead, 31-28 with 3:07 remaining.

Nebraska looked like it might steal victory yet again as Taylor hit Morgan Gregory for a 56-yard strike inside the FSU 5-yard-line, but it was nullified by a penalty. Another penalty put the Cornhuskers in a 4th-and-40 situation for which they were unable to convert.

Gainer and running back Dexter Carter each led FSU with 89 yards receiving as the FSU ground game managed just 104 yards on 29 carries. Nebraska finished with 249 yards on the ground with Jones leading the way with 80 yards.

The Florida State defense forced three turnovers — two fumbles and an interception by Deion Sanders. Linebacker Paul McGowan led FSU with 10 tackles while forcing and recovering a fumble.

The 31-28 victory gave FSU a then school-record 11 wins and a No. 2 national ranking, which was also its highest ever. It also began the streak of 14 straight top-5 finishes, which included a pair of national championships under the legendary Bobby Bowden. It all started on this day 30 years ago.

Mike Ferguson is the editor of The Daily Nole. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeWFerguson

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