Spartans cap best season in 35 years on last-second kick
Posted: Sunday January 02, 2000 08:04 AM
New Michigan State head coach Bobby Williams won his first game against Florida in the Citrus Bowl. AP
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) -- The critics say a playoff system is the only way to bring meaning to the college postseason. They should have seen the Citrus Bowl, and the way No. 9 Michigan State celebrated its wild victory over No. 10 Florida.
Paul Edinger kicked a 39-yard field goal as time expired Saturday to cap the Spartans' most successful season in decades with a 37-34 victory.
The kick sailed through and the Spartans (10-2) charged off the sideline, jumped up and down on the field, soaked in their band's fight song and celebrated like national champs.
The victory in coach Bobby Williams' debut gave Michigan State its first 10-win season since 1965. Williams joined George Perles as just the second coach to win in his first game at Michigan State.
Plaxico Burress set a school record with 13 receptions, including three for touchdowns, as the Spartans got the Williams era off to a good start after the stunning departure of Nick Saban last month.
"We just hope this tradition will go on," senior linebacker Julian Peterson said. "We just hope coach Williams goes out and wins a national championship next season."
That used to be a realistic goal for Florida (9-4).
The Gators closed the season on their first three-game losing streak since 1988, two years before Steve Spurrier arrived as coach. They'll finish without 10 victories for the first time since 1992 and likely out of the top 10 for the first time since 1990.
"I don't really have a comment about it," Spurrier said. "We've lost three in a row, we're not going to be in the top 10 and we're not going to win 10 games. They made a play or two more in the fourth quarter to win it. I guess that's the way life is for us in 1999."
Making the loss even more difficult was the fact that Burress and Edinger had Florida high on their list when they went to college.
Burress couldn't go there because of academics.
Edinger didn't go because he knew the Gators didn't put a premium on field goals. He kicked the most important one of his career just minutes after missing a 45-yarder that would have given the Spartans the lead.
"I was warming up on the sideline, I wasn't paying any attention," Edinger said. "Then, there were three seconds left and coach said, 'Go win one for us.''
He did, and Williams, drenched after a Gatorade bath, said he was as shocked as anyone in the stadium.
"I told our coaches we better get ready for overtime," he said. "The next thing I know, the clock said zero-zero and I was getting clunked with the bucket."
Even though Florida is hurting this year, the Gators' name will look quite nice on a list of Michigan State victories that includes Notre Dame, Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan.
This one might have been the most thrilling of all.
Florida took a 21-20 lead into halftime and, after the teams went scoreless through most of the third quarter, the excitement began.
Michigan State quarterback Bill Burke hit Burress for a 21-yard touchdown and a 26-21 lead.
Florida answered when Doug Johnson hit Travis Taylor in the middle of the field and Taylor weaved through traffic for a 39-yard touchdown, upending the Spartans' Amp Campbell and an official on his way to the end zone.
It was the third Johnson-Taylor touchdown connection of the day.
After the play, Johnson started jawing at Michigan State defensive end Hubert Thompson, who took on both the quarterback and Florida tackle Kenyatta Walker. A large pile grew in the middle of the field and the fight didn't end until coaches came off both benches to break up the melee. Walker and Thompson were ejected.
On Michigan State's next possession, Andra Davis forced Burke to fumble and Alex Brown recovered for the Gators. Florida converted for a 34-26 lead when running back Robert Gillespie fumbled into the end zone, then snatched the ball back with one hand as he was falling across the goal line.
Burress split Florida's zone on the next drive for a 30-yard touchdown catch. Burke hit Gari Scott for the 2-point conversion and the game was tied at 34 with 10:36 left.
The teams traded possessions from there until Lloyd Clemons, doing his best Ron Dayne impression, bulled for runs of 12, 6, 2 and 8 yards to set up the winning field goal.
Clemons finished with 105 yards on 20 carries. Freshman fullback T.J. Duckett had 77 yards on 14 carries. Burke went 21-for-35 for 257 yards in his last college game.
Johnson closed his college career with yet another bitter chapter. Given every chance to win the game by Spurrier, the senior quarterback went 24-for-50 for 288 yards. He made several good throws, but also botched some plays, most notably the fumble he coughed up that T.J. Turner scooped up for a 24-yard touchdown and a 17-7 lead.
Taylor, a junior, had 11 catches for 156 yards. Plagued by an ankle injury that made his return almost a certainty, the performance may have given him more to think about.
Burress' decision seems like all but a foregone conclusion. The 6-foot-6, 220-pound senior had 185 yards in receiving including two touchdowns in which he fought off 5-10 Florida cornerback Bennie Alexander with ease.
"Plaxico really played to his capabilities today," Williams said. "It was an outstanding performance."
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