The Daily Nole

20-Year Nole Anniversary: FSU Downs Rival Florida in Top 3 Showdown in Gainesville

Photo provided by Garnet and Great, FSU archivist

Throughout the 1990s, the annual rivalry contest between Florida and Florida State came with national implications. That was again the case on this day 20 years ago as the teams met with a national championship berth on the line.

The Seminoles were 10-0 and ranked No. 1 as they arrived at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Nov. 20, 1999 to take on third-ranked Florida. It was the second straight trip to Gainesville where FSU had arrived undefeated. Two years prior, the Gators stunned FSU late in a thrilling 32-29 victory.

“That game used to always decide the national championship,” said Tarlos Thomas, a starting tackle for FSU’s 1999 team. “We didn’t think too much about 1997. They were No. 3 in the nation. It was rivalry game. We were focused on the job in front of us.”

In what would be the final contest of the decade between the schools, FSU raced to a double-digit lead before rallying in the second half. In a contest that wasn’t decided until the final whistle, the Seminoles prevailed, 30-23.

The Seminoles wasted no time drawing first blood and for Florida, that would come from a familiar pest. FSU had won 23-12 the year before in Tallahassee, but trailed 12-6 early in the second half when wide receiver Peter Warrick changed the game by catching a deflected pass and weaving in and out of Florida defenders for the 32-yard touchdown to put his team ahead for good.

In his final game against the arch-rival Gators, Warrick reversed field before scoring from four yards out to cap the opening drive. Warrick would finish the day with 90 yards receiving and 19 more rushing.

“Our first drive was a touchdown,” Thomas said. “During that game, we never really felt like they could stop us. In a game like that, you knew they were going to bounce back.”

Warrick’s touchdown would serve as the only points of the first quarter. In the second quarter, FSU kicker and eventual Lou Groza Award repeat winner Sebastian Janikowski and Florida’s Jeff Chandler traded a pair of field goals. FSU led 13-6 at the break, but after Chandler’s third field goal with less than nine minutes to play in the third quarter cut the lead to four, momentum would swing drastically.

Three plays into the ensuing FSU possession, quarterback Chris Weinke fired downfield for wide receiver Marvin Minnis, but never saw Florida cornerback Bennie Alexander. Alexander stepped in front of the pass and returned it 43 yards for a score to give the Gators their first lead of the day, 16-13. The Seminoles would regroup and retake the lead before the third period ended.

“We didn’t panic,” Thomas said. “Weinke was calm and as a team, we were calm. We just had that will to win.”

Less than three minutes after Alexander’s go-ahead score, Janikowski showed off his strong leg. His 49-yard field goal attempt with less than five minutes to play in the quarter was negated by a false start penalty, but the left-footed All-American simply responded by hitting from 54 yards out to even the game. With the contest knotted at 16, the FSU special teams would play a major role in the Seminoles regaining the lead.

The FSU defense managed a stop on the ensuing possession before linebacker Tommy Polley broke through to block Alan Rhine’s punt and set the Seminoles up just outside the red zone. With less than a minute to play in the third quarter, running back Jeff Chaney scored from two yards out to put FSU ahead for good.

Florida would march inside the FSU 10-yard-line early in the fourth quarter, but FSU safety Chris Hope made perhaps the biggest defensive play of the day when he intercepted quarterback Doug Johnson near the goal line. Florida State would take its biggest lead of the game with just more than six minutes to play in the contest when Weinke found Minnis, who made a great over-the-shoulder catch, for a 27-yard touchdown.

Down 30-16, the Gators would answer with a 3-yard scoring strike from Johnson to Brian Haugabrook with 3:33 to go, but FSU reserve defensive back Todd Frier came up with a big recovery on the ensuing onside kick attempt. The Gators did get the ball back and manage one throw into the end zone, but it was knocked just outside of Haugabrook’s reach.

Florida actually finished the day with 442 yards of offense compared to FSU’s 346, but Florida turned the ball over twice, had a punt blocked and committed 15 penalties. Weinke passed for 263 yards in the win. Brian Allen led FSU with seven total tackles while Polley and All-American Corey Simon each had two tackles for loss. Jamal Reynolds recorded the only sack for FSU in the victory.

With the win, FSU improved to 11-0 and earned a spot in the Sugar Bowl where it would beat Michael Vick and Virginia Tech for the national championship. The victory served as Florida State’s first win in Gainesville since its prior national championship season of 1993. It came on this day two decades ago.

“It was wonderful,” Thomas said. “They had beat us for the national championship game in 1996 and in The Swamp in 1997, so to end their national championship hopes was great. We partied for about a week after that and then we set our minds on Virginia Tech. Any time you beat Florida, it’s great.”

Mike Ferguson is the editor of The Daily Nole. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeWFerguson. Like The Daily Nole on Facebook. To pitch an idea, author a post or to learn more about The Daily Nole, email Mike Ferguson at

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