LOUISVILLE, Ky. – After every unbelievable thing that happened here Saturday afternoon – after Louisville inexplicably threw a pass when a run might have sealed the game, after that pass ended up in the arms of safety A.J. Westbrook, and after Deondre Francois hit Nyqwan Murray for a 58-yard touchdown that erased a 14-point deficit and gave the Seminoles a 28-24 victory – FSU coach Willie Taggart was asked a simple question.
“Do you feel like you kind of stole a victory here?”
It was hardly unreasonable. The Seminoles seemed dead to rights multiple times on Saturday afternoon, never more so than when the Cardinals converted a short third down with a seven-yard pass to FSU’s 19-yard line with two minutes remaining.
Taggart, though, didn’t see it that way.
“I wouldn’t say we stole it,” he answered. “I thought we took a victory.”
And why not?
After all, even with Louisville’s decision to throw – one that will have its fans and media grousing all week – Westbrook still had to make the catch.
The Seminoles (3-2, 1-2 ACC) still needed to travel 81 yards in 1:56, Francois still needed to make a sharp throw over the middle and Murray still needed to complete the grab, shake off a defender and then outrace the Louisville defense.
And FSU still had to hold Louisville (2-3, 0-2) in check for 36 more seconds, which it did for good when Stanford Samuels III picked off Jawon Pass’ fourth-down throw.
An unlikely win? Given the circumstances, sure.
But a stolen win? No, not in Taggart’s mind.
“They turned the ball over, we had to drive the field to score,” he said. “We went down and got a victory. We won it.”
That’s not to say that he and the Seminoles weren’t surprised by how things played out.
With first-and-10 at the FSU 19-yard line, and about two minutes on the clock, virtually everyone inside Cardinal Stadium expected coach Bobby Petrino to run the ball, drain the clock – FSU had two of its three timeouts remaining – and, at worst, kick a field goal that would force the Seminoles to drive the length of the field in order to win.
That’s not what happened.
Instead, Pass pulled back a run-pass option and, looking for his tight end, threw a pass right into Westbrook’s chest.
“He threw it, and I was like, ‘Wow, he really threw it,’” Westbrook said. “I don’t know why he threw it, but oh well.”
“I was surprised and happy,” Taggart added. “I mean, I figured they were going to run the ball and make us use our timeouts and get out of there. It was great. I’m glad they did it.”
Petrino, for his part, said after the game he anticipated the Seminoles defending the run and hoped to catch them off guard.
“I look back on it, and I guess I should have run the ball,” Petrino said.
Five plays later, Francois hit Murray for a touchdown that quieted all but the section of Florida State fans in the corner of the north end zone.
It was the last of a career-high four touchdowns for Francois, who completed 16 of 27 passes for 294 yards. The redshirt junior wasn’t sacked and didn’t throw an interception for the first time this season.
“He was just locked in to what we had to do,” Taggart said. “And the receivers made plays for him.”
For nearly 45 minutes, this one looked to follow a similar script to FSU’s last road trip: An early deficit followed by a slow, frustrating march to a loss.
Louisville opened the scoring, took a 21-7 lead into the break and, despite sputtering in the second half, seemed mostly in control.
But that changed in a big hurry late in the third quarter, when Francois took a first-down snap, faked a handoff and threw deep to a wide open Tamorrion Terry.
Fifty-five yards later, Terry had his fourth touchdown of the season, and the Seminoles had a welcome surge of momentum.
That set the stage for all that madness that followed.
“That was big,” Taggart said. “… We felt like (Terry) could beat the corner over there. And, actually, the corner did a good job with the outside read. But he beat him with speed.”
Playing under some pressure for the first time since the first quarter, Louisville added a field goal that made it 24-14, their only points of the second half.
Francois wasn’t finished. He connected with Tre’ McKitty for a beautiful, 25-yard touchdown pass down the right sideline, and then again to Murray for the decisive touchdown.
Francois started 8 of 8 in the second half and threw for 214 of his 294 yards in the final two quarters. Murray, meanwhile, caught six passes for 114 yards and two scores, while Terry added 71 yards on three catches.
That includes a crucial grab in traffic that moved the chains on fourth-and-3 and set up McKitty’s touchdown.
“It’s a big win,” Terry said. “It’s a comforting win, too.”
Exactly what impact this win has on the rest of the season remains to be seen, although there were several positive signs. FSU cut down on its turnovers (one) and penalties (seven for 55 yards), and its offensive line had undoubtedly its best game of the year.
And while there were still some issues to address – the running game still couldn’t get going, and FSU converted just 3 of 13 third downs – the Seminoles are certain of this much:
Their looming road trip to No. 16 Miami looks much more inviting with this win in the books.
“Any time you’re going into a big rivalry game like this, you want to go in with some momentum,” Eberle said. “Going in at 3-2 is a whole lot better than going in at 2-3.
“The guys are excited. The team is focused. We’re locked in, ready to go down there and show the Hurricanes what we’ve got.”