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Florida State holds on to upset No. 5 North Carolina, 31-28

Tampa Bay Times — By Matt Baker Tampa Bay Times

Oct. 17-- For most of Saturday night, Florida State looked like Florida State again.

That's the easiest way to explain the inexplicable-the Seminoles' 31-28 upset of No. 5 North Carolina. A team that struggled at home two weeks ago against Division I-AA Jacksonville State exploded for 31 first-half points without its top receiver against a dark horse College Football Playoff contender.

A team that dropped its last six games against top-five opponents by an average of 27 points each dominated this top-five team for the first half and somehow held on in the second. A team that looked lost while dropping its opener to lowly Georgia Tech beat a top-five team for the first time since a 31-27 triumph over Notre Dame six years ago Sunday.

These 'Noles (2-3, 1-3 ACC) will not and should not be mistaken for those 2014 'Noles. But they at least looked like a team that was worthy of wearing the garnet and gold-something FSU fans haven't been able to say for most of the last three-plus years.

The offense was creative and explosive. The defense was intimidating and intense. And the result was impressive.

FSU started with a bang-a blocked punt followed by a 23-yard touchdown rush by quarterback Jordan Travis.

The fireworks kept coming. Travis wasn't dominant, but he made plenty of big plays early. He faked a run right deep in his own territory, then fired a pass left to tight end Preston Daniel for 36 yards.

He hit Ontaria Wilson for a 58-yard bomb that led to a field goal. Then he launched a 39-yard lob to a soaring Keyshawn Helton to set up a touchdown (on Travis' 1-yard sneak).

Travis got help from the rest of his team. A defense that went two consecutive Division I-A games without a sack had three through three quarters. Defensive end Joshua Kaindoh-an NFL talent who hasn't quite lived up to his five-star potential-intercepted a screen pass and returned it for a touchdown.

The biggest signs of FSU's growth happened later, starting when North Carolina's Javonte Williams rushed for an easy touchdown that put the Tar Heels on the board with 1:02 left in the first half.

The Seminoles of the last three years would have withered with the adversity, allowing a rough possession to snowball into a lost game. They even showed signs of unraveling, with three personal fouls in a five-play sequence.

But they didn't cave. FSU drove 75 yards in five plays on the ensuing possession, with Travis hitting Cam McDonald for a 12-yard touchdown to take a 31-7 lead into halftime.

FSU had a chance to add to it on the first drive of the second half, except a 33-yard field goal sailed wide right. The Seminoles could have spiraled then, too. Again, they didn't. The defense forced a fourth-down stop inside the 10 to thwart a scoring opportunity.

North Carolina didn't back down. Sam Howell-a longtime FSU commit who spurned the Seminoles for his home-state Tar Heels in December 2018-threw a pair of touchdowns in the third quarter to trim the deficit to 10. It was set up to be another FSU collapse, like the opener against Georgia Tech, or last year's loss to Boise State, or the 2018 flop at Miami or any number of failures since the final year of the Jimbo Fisher era.

Except this time, it didn't quite happen. Somehow.

FSU caught a break when North Carolina missed a 44-yard field goal that would have made it a one-score game early in the fourth quarter.

A hobbled Travis scrambling for a pair of crucial third-down conversions to help drain the clock. Howell's third touchdown pass made it a 31-28 game with 4:58 left, and the Tar Heels had a chance to tie it or win it in the closing minutes.

They did neither. North Carolina dropped three passes in a row to help FSU hold on for a program-changing win-one that made the Seminoles resemble the Seminoles of old.


The commitment to special teams Mike Norvell has stressed since his first day on the job is paying off. FSU blocked two of North Carolina's first three punts, giving them five blocked kicks/punts already. The Seminoles had only seven total in the last three years.

If you want to nitpick, the Seminoles' discipline remains lacking. In a span of five snaps late in the first half, FSU was flagged for targeting, roughing the passer and roughing the kicker.

Because of injuries, defensive end Joshua Kaindoh has never quite lived up to his five-star billing. He did Saturday night with a pivotal pick-six in the first half and a crucial pass deflection on a two-point conversion in the second.


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