Posted: Wednesday January 05, 2000 02:55 AM
NEW ORLEANS (Ticker) -- Peter Warrick has redemption and Bobby Bowden has his perfect season.
Warrick removed the tarnish from his otherwise amazing collegiate career by scoring three spectacular touchdowns as Bowden secured his second national title in Florida State's 46-29 victory over Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl.
In college football's national championship game, Warrick took center stage. He caught a 64-yard scoring pass from Chris Weinke in the first quarter, returned a punt 59 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter and made a highlight-reel grab of a 43-yard bomb from Weinke with 7:42 left in the game to make it 46-29.
Warrick's first score came on a rainbow pass. His punt return came against a special teams unit that had yielded just nine returns for 36 yards the entire season.
Florida State (12-0) had a 39-29 lead midway through the final quarter when cornerback Tay Cody and running back Jeff Chaney stopped Nick Sorenson short of a first down on a fake punt.
As Sorenson was lying on the ground injuured, the Florida State faithful, outnumbered by Virginia Tech fans in the largest football crowd in Superdome history (79,280), began chanting "Pe-ter War-rick."
On the next play, Weinke fired a long pass down the left side of the field for Warrick, who shook off cornerback Roynell Whitaker and tapped the ball while falling into the end zone before latching onto it. Whitaker was called for interference on the play.
"Right before that play, I asked the offense, 'Do you want me to finish them off?'" said Warrick, who was limping after the game.
"They said, 'Yeah.'" "We had to make a decision to win the game right here or sit on the ball," Bowden said. "He called about four guys over and he really said it to them."
Warrick's punt return, which gave Florida State a 28-7 lead with 11:40 left in the first half, was just one indication of the stunning advantage Florida State had in special teams.
Virginia Tech (11-1), which entered the game ranked second in the nation behind the Seminoles, built a reputation as having the best special teams in the country, partially by blocking an NCAA-best 63 kicks in the 1990s.
But it was Florida State that dominated on special teams as the Seminoles also returned a blocked punt for a TD and snuffed a fake field goal attempt.
"I knew they had a good coverage team," said Sorenson, a starting safety who also spends a lot of time on special teams.
"We just didn't stay as strong as we should have. I really think we controlled the game, but they came through and won."
Warrick was named the game's Most Valuable Player. He caught six passes for 163 yards and added a two-point conversion reception to set a Sugar Bowl scoring record. His big plays helped FSU overcome a 503-359 deficit in total yards and a shortage of nearly 13 minutes in possession time.
After catching just one pass for seven yards in a 23-16 loss to Tennessee in last year's championship game, Warrick returned for his senior season in an effort to win the Heisman Trophy.
Although he lost any chance of that due to his involvment in a clothing store discount scam, he achieved his other goals of graduating and winning the national championship.
"I've never been so focused in my life," Warrick said. "I did some things before the game that I never do. I thought about it all night. I've been through a lot of adversity this year and I just put it all behind me."
"His character could only be tested because he faced adversity," Bowden said before cracking a quip. "We don't recommend it, though."
Michael Vick, the outstanding redshirt freshman quarterback of the Hokies, played a spirited game. He carried 23 times for 97 yards and completed 15-of 29 passes for 225 yards and one touchdown. He was undone by a pair of fumbles, one into the end zone on Virginia Tech's first possession of the game.
"We did everything in our power that we could to win the football game but that wasn't good enough," said Vick, who drew rave reviews from Bowden and Florida State defensive stalwarts Corey Simon and Tommy Polley. "I fumbled and you can't make mistakes like that in the national championship game and I did it."
Weinke, Florida State's 27-year-old junior, was 20-of-34 for 329 yards and four TDs. He hit Ron Dugans five times for 99 yards and turned around the game with a touchdown drive after throwing his lone interception that led to Virginia Tech's only lead of the game, 29-28, late in the third quarter.
Weinke could be headed for the NFL, considering his age and his championship ring. But he said he will think about his future over the next few days before making a decision.
"What a great way to go out," he said, citing the biggest positive of leaving 12-0 and with a title. "This is something I've been waiting for. I was on the sidelines last year and I had the bad taste in my mouth for the last 12 months."
Weinke missed last year's title game after neck surgery.
Bowden also won a title in 1993 but this one vindicated his FSU program as a true dynasty. The Seminoles have not finished lower than fourth since 1987 but lost championship showdowns to Florida in 1996 and Tennessee last season. The loss to Florida ended an unbeaten season.
In the last six years, the 70-year-old Bowden has watched sons Tommy (at Tulane in 1998) and Terry (at Auburn in 1994) put together unbeaten seasons. But this campaign was Bobby's first without a blemish.
"I wanted to be like Tommy and Terry," the eldest Bowden said.
"Now I've got one."
That appeared to be in doubt after Tech's strong third quarter as the Hokies blanked the Seminoles and scored 15 points. With starting tailback Shyrone Stith sidelined with a sprained left ankle, the Hokies turned to Andre Kendrick, who scored on TD runs of 29 and six yards.
The Hokies got a 23-yard field goal from Shayne Graham midway through the quarter and Kendrick ran 29 yards for a touchdown on an option pitch from Vick. A two-point conversion pass failed, leaving the Hokies down 28 23.
After Anthony Midget's interception of Weinke, Vick led Tech on a seven-play, 59-yard drive that culminated with the backup tailback's six-yard burst into the end zone. Another two-point pass failed, but the Hokies had their first lead.
In the first half, Florida State brought out a big-play arsenal and scored four touchdowns with a mere three possessions. The Seminoles threatened to turn it into a rout until Vick ran three yards for a score to make it 28-14 with 37 seconds left in the half.
Warrick brought back a punt 59 yards for a touchdown with 11:40 left in the second quarter to extend the lead to 28-7. Just 2:05 earlier, Weinke hooked up with Dugans on a slant pattern for a 63-yard score that made it a 14-point game.
The Hokies drove inside the Seminoles 30 on their first two possessions but came away with no points. Vick fumbled into the end zone on fourth down and took a sack that puched Tech out of field-goal range.
Warrick started the scoring with 3:22 left in the first quarter when he caught a 64-yard rainbow from Weinke. Polley shot up the middle to block a punt by Jimmy Kibble and running back Jeff Chaney scooped it up at the 6 and ran it into the end zone to double the lead 68 seconds later.
Virginia Tech halved the deficit with 30 seconds left in the first quarter when Vick tossed a 49-yard scoring pass to Andre Davis, who caught seven passes for 108 yards.
Kendrick carried 12 times for 69 yards, most of them after Stith collected 68 yards on 12 rushes.
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