Florida State finally woke up from the nightmare.
Carrying the weight of a historically bad first quarter on top of a history of disaster at North Carolina State’s Carter-Finley Stadium, the top-ranked Seminoles overcame an early 17-point deficit and a host of other miscues to escape with a 56-41 triumph over the Wolfpack.
The win, coach Jimbo Fisher’s first in Raleigh, snapped a two-game FSU losing streak at N.C. State and provided the Seminoles just their fourth victory here since 1998.
“I’ll say this — I’ll bet TV likes us,” Fisher said moments after his team’s second dramatic, come-from-behind victory in as many weeks. “I’ll bet we kept people involved … they didn’t leave the TV, did they?”
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Through four games, three against Football Bowl Subdivision opponents, it’s apparent these Seminoles might not look like the national champions from last season.
That group made a weekly habit of dominating opponents teetering towards boredom. This season’s grouphas beaten its three top-level opponents by an average of nine points.
Behind quarterback Jacoby Brissett, the Wolfpack not only appeared upset-minded. They appeared primed for a full-on rout.
Brissett, a Palm Beach Dwyer standout who transferred from Florida after the 2012 season, stunned the Seminoles with a 54-yard touchdown pass on just the second play from scrimmage.
By the time the first quarter ended, N.C. State led FSU 24-7 and had roughed up FSU’s defense for the most first-quarter points allowed in school history.
“Hats off to Jacoby Brissett,” Fisher said. “He is a heck of a football player … It’s fun to watch as a spectator but not fun to watch if you’re the other coach.”
Slow, but steady
But with Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jameis Winston back in the huddle after serving a one-game suspension, FSU’s offense was prepared to go toe-to-toe. And, eventually, the Seminoles’ defense settled down, too.
Winston completed 26 of his 38 passing attempts for 365 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions.
Winston’s last touchdown, a four-yard pass to Rashad Greene late in the third quarter, gave the Seminoles their first lead of the game.
“We were like ‘Hey, if they’re scoring on our defense, we’ve got to show up,’” Winston said, “’Because if we don’t, what’s going to happen? We’re not going to take an L.”
Speading it out
As usual, Winston’s on-field fireworks stole the show, but FSU’s offensive outburst allowed for several heroes.
FSU’s running game, slow to get on track this season and through the first half Saturday, broke loose for 166 yards and four touchdowns. Senior Karlos Williams ran for 126 yards with three touchdowns and freshman Dalvin Cook, a former Miami Central standout, had six carries for 45 yards and a touchdown.
“We did nothing different,” Williams said. “We started playing football.
“We started calming down, slowing the game down, executing plays that we knew we could execute. And it turned into big plays for us.”
Winston pulled several receivers into the spotlight, too. Seven Seminoles caught passes and two, senior Rashad Greene and sophomore Jesus “Bobo” Wilson from Columbus High, had more than 100 receiving yards.
Sigh of relief
Brissett finished with 359 passing yards and three touchdowns, but also committed two fumbles — the first of which came at his own six-yard line, leading to FSU’s go-ahead score.
“There is a bunch of guys in there that are spent,” Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren said. “We played our hearts out.”
It all made for a stunning turnaround for a team that has often found a way — be it a last-second fumble, blocked punt, or a series of surrendered fourth-down conversions — to lose in heartbreaking fashion in Raleigh.
This time, the Seminoles reversed the roles, outscoring the Wolfpack 49-17 after the first quarter.
After the game, Fisher made his way into a tiny room beneath the stadium, cracked a smile and shook his head.
He admitted the Seminoles have yet to hit their stride in 2014. But in a place that has caused FSU so much heartache over the years, he’s happy to simply leave with a win and chalk the rest up as room to improve.
“We’re still not playing the football we’re capable of, which — at times — is frustrating, but is also very encouraging,” Fisher said. “We’re finding ways to win games and we are getting better. There’s no doubt.”