The Daily Nole

25-Year Nole Anniversary: FSU Tops Nebraska for First National Title

Damian Strohmeyer /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images

Across the globe, many people are welcoming in Jan. 1 and hoping to make some personal changes or for a better calendar year. When it comes to firsts, a very prominent one for Florida State football came on this day 25 years ago with a thrilling 18-16 victory over Nebraska for the national championship.

The Seminoles were ranked first in the country as they got set to face No. 2 Nebraska for college football’s ultimate prize in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 1, 1994. It was a match-up of legendary coaches as Nebraska’s Tom Osborne stood on the sidelines across the field from FSU’s Bobby Bowden. Led by Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward, FSU had overcome a loss at Notre Dame earlier in the year to reach the contest. Despite being undefeated, Nebraska was a 17-point underdog.

“That Nebraska team was very similar to Florida State with players who were battle-tested from the year before,” said Todd Rebol, who was a sophomore linebacker in 1993. “The fact that they were 17-point underdogs was completely wrong. That was an outstanding team.”

FSU had defeated the Cornhuskers in the Orange Bowl the year prior to wrap up the 1992 season, 27-14. In 1993, Osborne’s team was more experienced and with a backfield that featured Tommie Frazier and Lawrence Phillips, seemingly faster.

“We could see in the ’92 film where Nebraska was inches from making a play,” wide receiver Kez McCorvey told The Daily Nole over the summer. “Their front seven was really good. We respected them. They had learned from the little things that went wrong the year before. They put a lot of pressure on us.”

For the first time all season, Florida State was held without a touchdown in the first half as the Seminoles found themselves on the short end of a 7-6 halftime score. Despite being known for a wishbone ground attack, the lone touchdown of the first half came through the air as Frazier found Reggie Baul for a 34-yard score on a pass that was tipped by FSU safety Devin Bush.

FSU’s first touchdown of the night came on the opening drive of the second half, but not without controversy. On a give to fullback William Floyd, the football popped loose as Floyd leaped near the goal line, but officials had ruled that Floyd had broke the plain and the Seminoles led 12-7. Scott Bentley’s third field goal of the night gave FSU a 15-7 lead after three quarters.

Nebraska wasted little time finding the end zone in the final quarter as Phillips scampered in from 12 yards out on the first play to cut the lead to two. The score remained 15-13 after the FSU defense stopped Frazier short on a 2-point conversion attempt.

“What they did, they did well,” Rebol said. “They would just eat away at you. I’ll never forget that game, but I try to, because I don’t remember ever being beaten up more in a football game.”

Up until the final three drives, the defenses dominated the quarter. With 1:16 left in the quarter, Nebraska went back in front of a short field goal by Byron Bennett. Trailing 16-15, the season for FSU came down to one drive and with the Heisman Trophy winner at the helm.

“I was still calm,” former cornerback Clifton Abraham said. “As long as Charlie Ward was on the field, I always thought we had a chance.”

The ensuing kickoff went out of bounds, giving FSU good field position. The first set of downs, however, put the Seminoles’ back against the wall as they faced 4th-and-1 from their own 44. On a hand-off, Floyd was initially hit at the point of attack before squirting past the 45-yard-line for a first down.

“You’d rather be on the field as a player, but we were all positive,” Rebol said. “I would say confidence was high based on what Charlie and the offense had done all year. Your whole season came down to one drive. We certainly had the insight of watching Charlie and the offense practice the 2-minute drill.”

Following Floyd’s fourth down conversion, Ward would find Warrick Dunn out of the backfield for a gain of 21 yards, which was aided by a personal foul penalty to move the ball into the red zone.

“We did two minutes almost every practice,” McCorvey said. “Our own defense was one of the best in the nation. We shredded them in a 2-minute drills. We had done it so many times before.”

After an incomplete pass for McCorvey, a pass interference call on a throw for McCorvey in the end zone put the ball at the Nebraska 3-yard-line. Running back Sean Jackson was stuffed for a 2-yard loss on the ensuing play. Rather than run another the play, the Seminoles sent out Scott Bentley to attempt a 22-yard field goal from the right hash mark.

“It’s a mysterious thing how a team can be down and rise to the occasion when they have to,” former center Clay Shiver said. “We didn’t want it to come down to a kick, but Scott did a great job.”

Bentley’s kick would be attempted at the same stadium where Dan Mowrey’s had been pushed wide the year before in FSU’s only loss — a 19-16 defeat at the hand of rival Miami. Bentley had been 3-for-4 on the night when it came to field goals, but none of the prior kicks came with as much pressure.

“I don’t know why, but I thought he would miss,” Abraham said. “This was a chip shot, but I had seen it too many times. That’s why Scott Bentley was brought there; it was for this moment.”

As Bentley exhaled, the snap was good and so was the hold. More importantly, so was the kick. With 21 seconds remaining, the Seminoles had regained the lead, 18-16.

“Scott Bentley was the No. 1 kicker out of high school,” said Derrick Brooks, an All-American junior linebacker in 1993. “This was why he was brought here; he went out and he executed.”

The Seminoles weren’t out of the woods yet however, although they appeared to be. The Bentley make was followed by an excessive celebration penalty. With what most thought would be the final play of the game on the ensuing Nebraska drive from the Cornhuskers’ 43-yard-line, Frazier completed a 29-yard pass to Trumane Bell inside the FSU 30-yard-line. Brooks made the tackle in a mob of the Seminoles as the clock expired and players stormed the field.

“Instincts kick in,” Brooks said. “My thought at the time was just to make the stop.”

Officials cleared the field and put one second back on the clock, allowing Bennett a chance at a 45-yard field goal to try to steal the first national championship from Florida State and the legendary Bowden.

“I was fortunate to be able to be on the field for the kick,” Rebol said. “We did get some penetration. If you look at the picture from Sports Illustrated, you could see the blood and guts from a lot of guys trying to get through. I remember sitting on the field and looking at the eyes of our team and looking at the eyes of Nebraska. You could tell the magnitude of the situation.”

Bennett lined up for the try, but from the get-go, the kick had sailed wide to the left. The final kick has always been regarded as a bad miss off the foot from Bennett. Abraham however, gives a different account.

“I tipped that ball,” he said. “That’s why it went that way. My hand was still red after the game. Everyone knew I tipped the ball, but it’s something I’ve never really gotten credit for. Now 46 years old, I always thought that could have changed my life.”

Bobby Bowden’s first of two national championships was capped with an 18-16 win over Nebraska in thw 1994 Orange Bowl. (Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

FSU escaped with an 18-16 victory. The Seminoles would have to wait for the polls two days later to be released, but a first national championship seemed inevitable.

“The whole game from the delays to putting time back on the clock, I just remember it all just being bananas,” Shiver said. “When he finally shanked it, you remember this feeling as ‘finally’. There was just such a relief.”

When the final polls were released, FSU stood alone as college football’s No. 1 despite Notre Dame getting 26 of the 62 first-place votes in the Coaches Poll. The victory that sealed Florida State’s first national championship came on this day 25 years ago.

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

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