TALLAHASSEE -- The third-ranked Florida State Seminoles are still in the hunt for a national championship.
The seventh-ranked Miami Hurricanes would be grateful for a BCS bowl.
After a first half in which three-touchdown underdog Miami kept the game in reach with two interceptions that led to 14 Hurricanes points, the Seminoles broke the game open midway through the third quarter Saturday and went on to a 41-14 victory.
The largest crowd in Doak Campbell Stadium history — 84,409 — watched Stephen Morris’ second interception of the night, this one grabbed by safety Nate Andrews with 13:11 left in the game, seal the victory.
“We just lost to a really good football team,” UM coach Al Golden said. “We’ve got to saddle up and move forward. The kids have had great attitudes, been fighters. Now we’ve just got to keep moving forward when we get back.”
The Hurricanes (7-1, 3-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) not only lost their first game of the season, they also lost arguably their best player, running back Duke Johnson with a broken right ankle, according to a source. Johnson, who ran for 97 yards, is out for the season and is expected to have surgery this week.
Meanwhile, the Seminoles improved to 8-0 and 6-0, moving a step closer to clinching the Atlantic Division of the ACC — with a rematch with the Hurricanes waiting should they win the Coastal Division.
The Seminoles scored on three of their five drives in the first half Saturday, but threw interceptions on the other two, which the Hurricanes ultimately converted into 14 points.
“I was extremely proud of how he dealt with that,’’ said FSU coach Jimbo Fisher of redshirt freshman quarterback Jameis Winston and his mistakes.
Said Winston, who finished with 325 yards passing, a touchdown and his two picks: “I learned that I’ve got to keep my composure, I’ve got to keep playing and that I have an amazing team.
“They pulled us out of the dumps; they pulled me out of the dumps. They had my back.”
FSU went into the locker room at halftime leading 21-14 but came out fired up in the second half. Seminoles’ senior safety Terrence Brooks, who later was announced as having sustained a concussion, sacked Morris to end UM’s first drive of the third quarter.
From there, the game shifted off course for Miami and into cruise control for the Seminoles.
A 26-yard pass from Winston to senior receiver Kenny Shaw at 8:53 of the third quarter ended in an on-field skirmish that centered on FSU right tackle Bobby Hart and UM defensive end Anthony Chickillo. Hart lay on top of Chickillo and wouldn’t get up, and at some point, Chickillo’s hands appeared to be on Hart’s facemask.
A furious Fisher eventually lit into Hart on the sideline.
The FSU fans started screaming the Seminoles war chant, officials called offsetting penalties on two other players (UM cornerback Tracy Howard and FSU right guard Tre’ Jackson), and FSU had first down at the UM 5.
FSU made it 28-14 on a touchdown run by James Wilder Jr., with 8:33 left in the third quarter.
“We were in a 21-14 game and obviously put the defense on the field too many times in the third quarter,” Golden said. “That’s a high-powered offense, make no excuses. They executed better than we did. The kid [Winston] did a great job of hitting his second and third receivers, and they made big plays.
“We didn’t do enough in this game to put any pressure on them.”
The Seminoles then scored 13 consecutive points on a 12-yard run by Devonta Freeman late in the third quarter and two fourth-quarter field goals by Roberto Aguayo.
FSU finished with 517 yards of offense, to UM’s 275 yards.
Morris threw for 192 yards and two scores, with the two interceptions.
The Canes have another tough game next weekend at Sun Life Stadium against Coast Division foe Virginia Tech (6-3, 3-2), which was upset Saturday by Boston College. UM would have to defeat the Hokies to stay in control of the Coastal.
The Seminoles travel to Wake Forest next Saturday in fine shape, with their toughest opponent, the Gators, in the season finale Nov. 30 in Gainesville.
The Hurricanes won the opening toss to start the game, deferred, and watched the Seminoles methodically drive down the field to their first touchdown with 9:16 left in the first quarter. On first-and-goal from the 5, Freeman, a Miami Central graduate, plunged straight through the Hurricanes defense for the touchdown. FSU converted three third downs on the drive, including a 19-yard gain by Winston from the Miami 35.
FSU led 7-0.
Miami got the ball back and also made it look easy — until it got to third-and-8 from the Florida State 27. Morris threw an incomplete pass, and kicker Matt Goudis came in. But Goudis’ 44-yard field-goal attempt sailed wide left, his third miss from 40 yards or longer in the past three games.
The Hurricanes got a huge break less than a minute later when sophomore Deon Bush grabbed his first career interception on a Winston overthrow. The Canes needed five plays to score.
Morris’ 33-yard pass hit Allen Hurns perfectly in full sprint down the right sideline just before Hurns charged into the end zone to make it 7-7 with 2:43 to go in the first quarter.
But the Seminoles were at it again on the ensuing drive, converting two third downs before Winston fired a 35-yard pass to 6-5, 234-pound receiver Kelvin Benjamin, who leaped for the reception and came down over safety A.J. Highsmith. Winston took matters in his own hands two plays later. Flushed out of the pocket, he headed right, then changed direction and barreled left until linebacker Denzel Perryman grabbed his ankle and stopped him at the 1. No worries. James Wilder, Jr. scored with 10:42 left in the half, giving the Seminoles a 14-7 lead.
FSU made it 21-7 on its shortest drive of the first half, thanks to a 48-yard touchdown on a screen pass from Winston to Devonta Freeman. The 5-9 sparkplug put his pads down and outran the defense to give FSU its biggest cushion with 5:08 left.
Miami narrowed the gap to 21-14 on Winston’s second interception of the night with 2:05 left, this one into the arms of safety Rayshawn Jenkins at the Miami 43-yard line.
Johnson ran for 13 yards on first down, followed by tight end Clive Walford’s second one-handed catch in two weeks – each for 20 yards.
On third-and-10 from the FSU 25, Morris ran hard toward the sideline, gaining 9 but limping on his way back to the huddle. Johnson gained the 1 on fourth down. Hurns scored his second artful touchdown of the night two plays later as his right foot landed just inside the left corner of the end zone.
The teams ran into their locker rooms with FSU leading 21-14 at the half.