The football field was more like a caged octagon for quarterbacks Brad Kaaya and Deondre Francois, who both got body-slammed early in Florida State’s 20-19 comeback victory over the University of Miami on Saturday night.
Neither was quite himself after the bone-rattling hits. Stalwart defense also made it a turbulent night for the helmsmen at sold-out Hard Rock Stadium.
In another wild, spine-tingling ending in the 61st edition of a rivalry chock full of them, a missed kick again determined the outcome. No. 23 Florida State beat No. 10 UM for the seventh time in a row and narrowed UM’s edge in the historic series to 31-30.
Kaaya, who finished with 19 completions on 32 attempts for 214 yards and two touchdowns, was clobbered on the first play from scrimmage by linebacker Jacob Pugh for a loss of 5 yards. He had an uneven game, with many throws low, behind receivers or off target, but placed the ball with pinpoint accuracy to Stacy Coley on what would have been the tying touchdown with 1:38 left if Michael Badgley’s extra-point attempt had not been blocked by DeMarcus Walker’s left hand.
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Francois, who finished with 20 completions on 31 attempts for 234 yards and two touchdowns, was smashed to the ground late in the first quarter when 305-pound defensive tackle Kendrick Norton jumped on his back. Francois landed on his right (throwing) shoulder and his helmet popped off like a cork. He clutched his arm and was immediately ushered into Florida State’s sports medicine tent, a secretively-curtained enclosure on the sideline.
Francois, who missed much of the second quarter, favored the shoulder the rest of the game, often windmilling his arm to loosen it up. He wasn’t consistently sharp but was when it counted, completing a 59-yard scoring pass to Dalvin Cook even as he was sandwiched after releasing the ball by UM defensive ends Pat Bethel and Demetrius Jackson, who was penalized for a personal foul. Francois’ helmet came off again and he sat dazed on the ground with his hand on his forehead before being led back into the private tent.
Late in the third quarter, Francois orchestrated the go-ahead drive with four precision passes and hit Kermit Whitfield with a 20-yard touchdown strike and the Seminoles’ first lead, 17-13.
Both quarterbacks displayed resilience despite the battering they endured.
When asked how he felt after the game, Kaaya responded, “Not amazing. I took some hits, I took some hits to the head. I lost a tooth. Half my back molar is chipped off. But I’m good. It’s part of football.”
Kaaya, who lost his train of thought once while talking, said he would get checked out Sunday. He sustained a concussion last season and missed one game.
“It was heartbreaking,” he said of the concluding blocked extra point. “You think you’re going to overtime and that happens. He [Badgley] did his job. He can’t help it if the kick gets blocked. It got blocked, right?”
Kaaya committed his biggest mistake when he had UM in position to score and pad its lead to 17 points from the FSU 18-yard line but was intercepted by Tarvarus McFadden on an end-zone pass intended for Ahmmon Richards. The pass was right into McFadden’s gut. Kaaya threw the pick four plays after he was speared in the left side of his jaw by rushing linebacker Matthew Thomas, who was ejected for targeting.
“We didn’t have a chance to practice that route much. I thought Ahmmon would undercut [McFadden],” Kaaya said. “I threw it underneath and the corner turned around and made the play.”
Francois, knocked down eight times, was constantly hassled by UM’s defensive linemen, including Jackson, R.J. McIntosh and Michael Pinckney, who batted down passes. Rayshawn Jenkins and Corn Elder were instrumental in breaking up passes in the secondary. When Sean Maguire took over for Francois in the second quarter, tackle Gerald Willis and end Joe Jackson sacked him for a 10-yard loss.
FSU had to settle for a field goal after Francois’ pass was incomplete to Bobo Wilson in the end zone as he was crushed by Jenkins in the backfield. On the next play, he hurriedly threw it long.
UM took a 10-0 lead when Kaaya lofted a 19-yarder to Coley in the end zone as Coley was falling out of bounds. On review the catch was ruled good as officials ruled Coley’s left foot was in bounds when he caught the ball.