The Daily Nole

15-Year Nole Anniversary: Rix to Sam in The Swamp

Phil Sears/Tallahassee Democrat

It’s one of the more iconic moments in recent memories for Florida State as it involves past contests against rival Florida and it happened on this day 15 years ago in a 38-34 win.

FSU was ranked ninth in the country as it traveled to take on No. 11 Florida on Nov. 29, 2003. Florida State had just clinched the ACC two weeks prior, but was looking to avenge a 37-13 defeat from its last trip to Gainesville.

The Seminoles were able to race to a 17-6 lead, thanks to a pair of Chris Rix touchdown throws to Dominic Robinson and Matt Henshaw, but the Gators stormed back with 18 straight points and held a 24-17 advantage with a 77-yard fumble return by Keiwan Ratliff giving Florida the lead.

Florida State would draw even with a fumble return of its own as safety Pat Watkins went 25 yards for the score after Florida running back Ciatrick Faison put the ball on the ground. Tied at 24 after three, the fourth quarter would see four lead changes.

After Matt Leach’s short field goal put Florida in front by three, Rix sneaked over the top for a touchdown to give the Seminoles a 31-27 advantage with five minutes to play. After Florida went back in front on a Chris Leak 25-yard touchdown toss to Ben Troupe with 2:50 to play, FSU appeared down to its final play.

Facing 4th-and-14 from its own 24 on the ensuing possession, Rix was able to keep the Seminoles alive by finding Robinson, who made a nice grab, for a 24-yard gain. On the next play, Rix went for the jugular.

Forced to his right, Rix wound up to throw deep into man coverage where wide receiver P.K. Sam was matched up with Florida safety Guss Scott. Scott was never able to locate the football and Sam made the catch in the end zone for a 52-yard touchdown with just 55 seconds remaining.

“I heard the crowd and had a feeling that he threw it,” Sam recalls. “I adjusted and turned my shoulders and was able to catch it. Guss was a better player than I was, but just couldn’t turn around.”

Sam recalled being overthrown on a deep route in which he was open on the set of downs ending on Robinson’s key fourth-down conversion. The memorable touchdown play, he said, was never intended to be a deep route.

“(Offensive coordinator) Jeff Bowden had actually designed a play before that, which was perfect against that coverage and Rix just overthrew me,” Sam said. “Rix being Rix bought time (on the winning play) and I just ended up downfield. As they say, the rest is history.”

On the game’s final play, the FSU defense stopped Leak well short of the goal line and the Seminoles collected their second straight win over rival Florida. Rix finished the day with 256 yards passing and three touchdowns with Robinson leading the way with 102 yards receiving. At the end of the day, it was Sam on the receiving end of the throw that most remember.

“I didn’t really understand what was happening at the time,” Sam said. “A guy on the sideline walked over to me and joked that I was rich now. After that, a coach came up to me and asked if I kept the ball and I didn’t; I didn’t even think to. That was the first time (I realized the significance). As the years went by, I started to understand just how big of a moment that was.”

Kendyll Pope, who returned an interception for a touchdown in the contest the year prior, and Eric Moore each had sacks in the win. Stanford Samuels, Michael Boulware and B.J. Ward all finished with six tackles.

Unfortunately for FSU, it would be another seven years before it would beat the Gators again. One of the most memorable moments in series history however, came on this day in 2003.

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

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