SWEETNESS: Payton has career night as ‘Canes top Florida State at the Orange Bowl

MIAMI-A football season deemed by some as a disappointment ended on a high note at the Orange Bowl as the Miami Hurricanes edged intrastate rival Florida State 16-14 in front of 76,739 spectators at Pro Player Stadium.
In his last game as a Hurricane, senior tailback Jarrett Payton tallied a career-best 131 yards on 22 carries, earning MVP honors and recording the top rushing performance against the Seminoles in 2003. Freshman Tyrone Moss added 35 yards on 15 carries and a touchdown, and red shirt freshman kicker Jon Peattie connected on three of four field goals, including a 51-yarder in the third quarter that gave the ‘Canes the lead for good.

The Hurricane defense held the vaunted Seminole offense to 206 total yards. Junior quarterback Chris Rix completed only six of 19 passes for 96 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Florida State’s leading rusher, Greg Jones, carried the ball only six times for 38 yards.

The ‘Canes started the game with a nine play, 59 yard drive resulting in a 32-yard Peattie field goal to open the scoring. Payton came through with a 37-yard scamper to set up the field goal opportunity.

“I had this feeling that we could come out and run the ball and be successful at it,” Payton said. “We wanted to prove to everyone that we could play better and that the first game wasn’t a fluke.”

The Hurricanes had another chance to score in the first quarter, but Jerome Carter picked off Brock Berlin’s pass on the Florida State goal line. Rix wasted no time in making Miami pay for the mishap, connecting with Chauncey Stovall for a 52-yard gain. The ‘Noles would get on the board shortly thereafter, as Lorenzo Booker ran untouched into the end zone for a nine-yard touchdown, giving Florida State a 7-3 lead.

After forcing the Hurricanes to punt, the Seminoles received a gift as Brian Monroe could only manage an eight-yard kick, giving Florida State the ball at Miami’s 39-yard line. Six plays later, Rix found backup tight end Matt Henshaw wide open in the end zone for a seven-yard touchdown and a commanding 14-3 Seminole lead.

Feeling pressure to respond quickly, the Hurricanes took advantage of a 46-yard Payton run on third-and-two, scoring moments later when Moss plunged into the end zone for a three-yard touchdown, cutting Miami’s deficit to four points. Peattie added a 44-yard field goal with no time left in the half to make it a 14-13 game at intermission.

Both defenses tightened up in the second half, as yards were difficult to come by for each team. The Hurricanes were forced to punt early in the third quarter, but an illegal substitution penalty on the Seminoles gave Peattie a chance to attempt a career-long 51-yard field goal. His kick sailed through the uprights, and the ‘Canes had a 16-14 lead.

After the game, Peattie struggled to find reasons why his range had expanded to 51 yards in the biggest contest of the season.

“I think I have kind of been the same all season but I guess I had a little bit more confidence [tonight],” he said. “I had a couple of games under my belt. I had pretty good practices. I think I made all of my field goals in our team practices. I just came out relaxed.”

The Seminoles had a golden opportunity to take the lead in the fourth quarter, as Kendyll Pope forced a Berlin fumble, giving Florida State possession at the ‘Canes’ 30-yard line. However, kicker Xavier Beitia, notorious for missing a game-deciding field goal against the Hurricanes last season, sailed a 39-yarder wide right with 5:30 left in the game.

Miami took over and attempted to control the clock and clinch the victory, but the Seminole defense stopped the ‘Canes on third down, setting up a fourth-and-one at Miami’s 32-yard line. Head Coach Larry Coker decided to gamble instead of punting the ball to the ‘Noles, calling for a direct snap to D.J. Williams, a play that had been used in the Temple game earlier in the season. The direct snap shocked the Seminoles, as Williams plowed through an enormous hole for a critical 31-yard gain.

After Peattie’s field goal attempt was blocked, the Seminoles got the ball back with one last chance to win the game. Penalties kept Florida State from mounting a drive, and when Rix’s fourth-down pass to P.K. Sam fell incomplete, the celebration began for the Hurricanes.

After the game, Coker praised the defense for holding the favored ‘Noles to 14 points.

“Our defensive coaches did a great job,” he said. “Coach [Randy] Shannon had them very prepared. We knew we had to play a great defensive game to play a great game.”

While the Hurricanes did not earn a third consecutive national championship appearance, the team left Pro Player Stadium on top with no regrets.

“Winning the game was a great thrill for our team and our program,” Coker said. “FSU is a class act and Coach Bowden is a class coach.”

Eric Kalis can be contacted at e.kalis@umiami.edu.