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Going into the Florida game, Florida State players weren't talking about their No. 3 ranking or No. 1 hopes. The tone of the rivalry was pretty well established by a quote from Florida Tight End Chris Faulkner, which was posted in the Seminole dressing room. "We think about Florida State all year long," Faulkner said. "Coach Pell tells us to take five minutes a day to hate FSU." Another thing that got back to Tallahassee was news of a brick with three holes in it that hung on a wall where the Gators eat. Next to the brick is a sign that reads: THIS IS A FLORIDA STATE BOWLING BALL.
Before a record crowd of 53,772 at Doak Campbell Stadium Saturday, the Seminoles sent their tri-captains to mid-field for the coin toss, and Florida sent its entire team. And for the first half it seemed as if similar numbers were playing for each side. Florida State looked like the No. 3 team in the state, not the country. In the second quarter the Gators ran 23 plays to the Seminoles' 10 and had the ball for 10:23 to State's 4:37. For the half, Florida gained 226 yards to the Seminoles' 89. The Gators had a 13-3 lead at the intermission, the scores coming on a gorgeous 53-yard TD pass from freshman Quarterback Wayne Peace to spectacular Split End Tyrone Young—plus a pair of Brian Clark field goals.
During halftime Bowden quietly lectured his players. He talked about there being plenty of time, about how the Seminoles had been talking and the Gators had been doing. "Right now they want it more than we do," he said. "We're down 13-3. But we were behind 14-3 at Nebraska and came back. Is this worth fighting for?"
Nobody answered—at least not in the dressing room. The Seminoles gave their response—a resounding yes—on the field. They took the kickoff and marched 82 yards for a touchdown that made it 13-10. During the drive Platt's replacement, Ricky Williams, carried six times in a row for 39 yards. From the Florida 43 Stockstill completed a 12-yard pass to Hardis Johnson, and four plays later he hit Johnson again for a score. After an exchange of punts Stock-still went to work again, twice finding Johnson wide open, the second time from the Florida 20 for a touchdown. The point-after made it Seminoles 17, Gators 13 only 36 seconds into the fourth quarter. Florida State, which had not yielded a point in the fourth quarter all year, kept that streak intact and Florida was beaten. Stockstill completed 11 of 18 passes for 137 yards; Johnson had seven catches for 107 yards.
Johnson, the fastest of the Seminoles' regular receivers, is a 6-foot sophomore from Tampa whom Bowden considered half of an unstoppable duo that signed on with Florida State in February 1979. The other receiver was Anthony Carter of Riviera Beach, Fla. But Carter wound up at Michigan, where this season he helped make Wolverine Quarterback John Wangler a star. "If I had the choice of keeping only one of them," Bowden said later, "it would've been Hardis."
"Hardis has the hot hand right now," Stockstill said. "He's running super routes and catching balls on the numbers as well as ones he has to dive for. I can't say I look just for him, but I can say when I look at him he's usually open."
With the easy part—which turned out to be difficult—done, Florida State players began scattering to television sets in dorms, bars, restaurants and hotels to root for USC. Bowden went home to a steak cookout for some 30 prospective recruits who were visiting Tallahassee. One of the few dressing room stragglers was Linebacker Herring, who had made 10 tackles and recovered a fumble.
Herring was asked if he was rooting for USC. "Rooting?" he said. "I'll be in their back pocket all afternoon." He didn't need to be. Playing without regulars at quarterback, tailback and fullback, the Trojans whipped Notre Dame 20-3, guaranteeing Florida State a No. 2 ranking going into the bowls. "I'm shifting from being the world's greatest USC fan today to being the world's greatest Notre Dame fan in three weeks," Herring said.
Bowden saw little of the game but he checked into the TV room frequently to hear the score. With each visit, the news was increasingly rosy. Bonasorte and about a dozen other players watched USC's victory at a house in Tallahassee, where there were plenty of oysters, both eaten and hurled at walls in celebration. "It's special, because when you play at Florida State and lose one game, you don't expect to have a shot at No. 1," Bonasorte said. "All it means is somebody up top is on our side."
A year ago, when Auburn beat Georgia, sending Alabama to the Sugar Bowl and in effect opening up the Orange for Florida State, Bowden wired Tiger Coach Doug Barfield expressing his gratitude. Two days before the Florida game he was asked if he would send USC Coach John Robinson a thank-you telegram should the Trojans upset Notre Dame. "Naw," Bowden said. "But I might send one to Notre Dame saying, 'Beat them Dawgs.' "