The Daily Nole

20-Year Nole Anniversary: FSU Tops Hokies in Sugar Bowl to Become First Wire-to-Wire No. 1

Garnet and Great, FSU archivist

Throughout his legendary career and 34 years as head coach at Florida State, there was no shortage of accomplishments for Bobby Bowden. On this day two decades ago, Bowden’s Seminoles did something no other team had done in the AP Poll’s history.

At No. 1 in the AP Poll from the beginning, top-ranked Florida State needed just one win to become college football’s first wire-to-wire No. 1 as it arrived in New Orleans to take on Big East champion and No. 2 Virginia Tech for the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 4, 2000. Both teams were 11-0 as they met for the national championship. FSU watched the Hokies erase a 3-touchdown advantage to take a lead into the final quarter, but the Seminoles scored the game’s final 18 points to prevail, 46-29.

Playing for a BCS national championship for the second straight year, the Seminoles had come up just short of winning a national championship in recent years. FSU had its perfect season ended by rival Florida in the Sugar Bowl for the 1996 national title and in the 1997 regular season finale. In 1998, FSU reached the Fiesta Bowl for the national championship, but fell to Tennessee, 23-16.

“We were young in 1998 and Tennessee came out and hit us in the mouth,” said Tarlos Thomas, a starting tackle on the 1999 team. “We knew what we had to do.”

The FSU offense was led by star wide receiver Peter Warrick while All-American defensive tackle Corey Simon headlined perhaps the nation’s deepest defense. Early on, those were the guys who helped the Seminoles race to a 28-7 lead.

After Simon recovered a fumble in the end zone from Virginia Tech’s star freshman quarterback Michael Vick on the opening drive to thwart a scoring opportunity for the Hokies, it became the Warrick show. Warrick got the scoring started on a 64-yard touchdown reception from quarterback Chris Weinke, who finished the night with 329 yards passing, before the Seminoles doubled their lead when running back Jeff Chaney returned a blocked punt for a touchdown.

Frank Beamer’s Virginia Tech teams had traditionally been known for their splendid special teams play, but that was an area dominated by FSU in the Sugar Bowl. After Vick and Weinke traded long touchdown passes — Vick’s 49 yards to Andre Davis and Weinke’s 63 yards to Ron Dugans — Warrick gave FSU a 21-point lead on a 59-yard punt return for a touchdown.

“Corey Simon, Ron and Peter Warrick were not big talkers,” Thomas recalled. “Those guys were true leaders and great teammates. They led by example.”

With less than 12 minutes to play in the first half, the tide would suddenly turn as Virginia Tech scored the game’s next 22 points to take a 29-28 lead. Vick scored from three yards out in the final minute of the first half to cut the deficit to 28-14 at the break. After a short field goal from Shayne Graham early in the third quarter, Andre Kendrick put the Hokies ahead with touchdown runs of 29 and of six yards in less than a 4-minute span to stun FSU.

“They were No. 2 for a reason,” Thomas said. “I don’t think we were taking any plays off or anything. They started stuffing the run and making big plays against our defense.”

After being held scoreless in the third quarter, Florida State had a decision to make early in the fourth. Facing 4th-and-short from their own 46-yard-line, the Seminoles kept the offense on the field but put the more mobile Marcus Outzen under center. With the Hokies expecting a sneak up the middle, Outzen pitched the ball outside to running back Travis Minor, who scampered for 16 yards before being hit out of bounds for a personal foul and an additional 15 yards.

“It was all about believing in who we were,” Thomas said. “That 4th-and-inches, we ran that sweep to Travis Minor and got that 15 yards on top of it — that was huge. We had this switch that turned on when we needed it to.”

Three plays after a swing pass to Chaney resulted in a first down, FSU went ahead for good as Weinke found a wide open Dugans for a 14-yard touchdown. Weinke hit Warrick for the 2-point conversion with less than 13 minutes to play and from there, the FSU defense took over.

On the ensuing Virginia Tech drive, linebacker Bobby Rhodes was able to strip Vick and safety Sean Key recovered inside the Hokies’ 35-yard-line. That would set up a 32-yard field goal by 2-time Lou Groza Award winner Sebastian Janikowski with more than 10 minutes to play to make it a 39-29 game.

On the next Virginia Tech march, the Seminoles snuffed out a fake punt on fourth down to take over inside the Hokies’ 45. It took Warrick just one play to put Virginia Tech away.

With Warrick running a fly pattern, Weinke went for the jugular. Despite having Virginia Tech cornerback Roynell Whitaker draped all over him and drawing a flag, the All-American made a remarkable juggling catch for his third and final touchdown of the night. Warrick would finish with six receptions for 163 to go with 220 all-purpose yards.

In terms of yardage, Virginia Tech dominated with 503 yards and nearly 280 on the ground to just 359 total yards for the Seminoles. Miscues and special teams play would prove to be big difference-makers. In addition to big nights from Warrick and Weinke, who threw four touchdowns, Dugans finished with 99 yards receiving on five catches. Vick put up 322 yards of total offense while FSU managed just 30 yards rushing. Davis led the Hokies with more than 100 yards receiving.

The FSU defense may have allowed a lot of yardage, but it still made plays, forcing three turnovers. The Seminoles also tallied 16 tackles for loss and eight sacks. Defensive end Jamal Reynolds was responsible for three sacks while linebacker and the team’s leading tackler for the night, Bradley Jennings, got to Vick twice.

For the first and only time during his illustrious career, Bowden’s team had completed a perfect season as the Seminoles never slipped from their No. 1 ranking en route to their second national championship. That title was sealed on this day two decades ago.

“To do it for Coach Bowden was amazing, but it was kind of bittersweet,” Thomas said. “To know that I would never play with some of those guys again — that was tough. There were a lot of tears and a lot of smiles in that locker room. We were national champions and nobody could take that from us.”

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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