Originally created 11/30/03

Florida St. tops Florida in emotional game



GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- P.K. Sam ran a twisting, whirling, falling-down pass route for a 52-yard touchdown that lifted Florida State to a 38-34 victory over Florida on Saturday, a spectacular game that was marred by a brawl at midfield after the game ended.

Sam's catch with 55 seconds remaining pushed No. 9 Florida State (10-2) to the 10-win plateau for the first time since 2000. No. 11 Florida (8-4) had its five-game winning streak halted, along with any hopes of sneaking into the Southeastern Conference title game.

The last touchdown, the third TD throw of the day for Chris Rix, was a thrilling climax to a game that had a bit of everything - great plays, terrible officiating and back-and-forth scoring.

The emotion, however, caught up with the players: When the Seminoles went to midfield to celebrate the win, they were greeted by the Gators, who didn't want them jumping up and down on their "F" at midfield. Punches were thrown, helmets went flying.

Gators athletic director Jeremy Foley and FSU sports information director Rob Wilson jumped in the middle to separate the 100-or-so players, and police used pepper spray to disperse them.

"I have no idea what happened," Florida coach Ron Zook said. "But I promise you, if our guys were involved, we'll get it straightened out."

There were no immediate reports on injuries from the fight. And hopefully, once tempers settle, this game will be remembered more for the show on the field than what happened afterward.

The lead changed hands four times in the fourth quarter. With 2:55 left, Florida went ahead 34-31 on Ben Troupe's 26-yard touchdown catch from Chris Leak in the back of the end zone. Troupe got one foot down; the official stared hard at the play, and initially brought his arms to the side, as though he were going to call it incomplete.

But he raised his hands to signal a touchdown, one of the few calls that went Florida's way on a day that will surely not grade out well for the Atlantic Coast Conference officiating crew, headed by referee Jack Childress.

The crew made at least three questionable calls on fumbles - calling players down when they weren't or vise versa - and absolutely blew at least two more, including giving Seminoles tailback Leon Washington credit for a fumble recovery even though Florida linebacker Channing Crowder sprinted out of the pile with the ball.

Four plays after that call, Rix dove over the goal line for a touchdown that gave the Seminoles a 31-27 lead. But there were still five minutes left, and the fun was just beginning.

Indeed, it was a barnburner, a game that will be debated and rehashed for years to come, although there's no changing the result now. The Seminoles defeated their archrivals for the fifth time in six years. They are ACC champions and will go into their BCS bowl on a high.

The Gators, meanwhile, won't make it to the SEC title game next week. Tennessee's win over Kentucky made it almost impossible, and Florida's loss itself ended all hope. The honor, instead, will officially go to Georgia on Sunday. Florida still has a chance to make it to Atlanta, on Jan. 2, if Peach Bowl representatives offer them a bid, as expected.

Whatever their bowl, the Gators will have more than a month to stew over this heartbreaking loss.

Who were the stars? It's hard to list them all.

For FSU, Rix threw for 256 yards on only 19 attempts. Dominic Robinson caught five passes for 102 yards, nicely filling the hole left when leading receiver Craphonso Thorpe was lost for the year earlier this month. Linebacker Pat Watkins returned a fumble 25 yards for a touchdown to tie the game at 24 late in the third quarter.

His scoop came after it appeared Florida tailback Ciatrick Fason was down, one of several calls these refs either blew, or might have blown.

Florida had its share of great performances, too. Troupe caught two touchdowns and finished with 121 yards receiving. Leak threw for 273 yards and caught a 30-yard pass from Andre Caldwell, one of several Florida gadget plays that worked. Cornerback Keiwan Ratliff basically sealed his All-American status, scooping a fumble and going 77 yards for his fourth touchdown of the season and a 24-17 lead.

The fight, meanwhile, was unfortunate, but not unprecedented. The biggest difference is that this one came after the game instead of before, as happened a few times in the late 1990s between these hated rivals.

Not so stellar were the referees, who got things going on the opening kickoff, when they ruled FSU returner Antonio Cromartie down, even though it looked as though his knee hadn't hit before he fumbled and the Gators recovered.

ACC officiating observer Earnest Benson declined comment on any of the calls, but said games are reviewed weekly by the league. And while the ACC's director of officials might not like what he saw from his guys when he gets this tape, he certainly will get to watch one a heck of a game.