Bowden gets wish as Seminoles outlast NU

TEMPE, Ariz. (Jan. 1, 1988) — A few days before his Seminoles were to take on Nebraska in the 17th Sunkist Fiesta Bowl, Florida State Coach Bobby Bowden noted that in previous games between the two schools, if the game was close, FSU won. If the score was one-sided, the Huskers won.

“So I hope it’s close,” Bowden said.

Unfortunately for Nebraska, Bowden got his wish on both counts. The game was close. A heart-stopper, in fact. And Florida State won, 31-28, when quarterback Danny McManus hit flanker Ronald Lewis with a fourth-down, 15-yard touchdown pass with 3:07 left in the game.

McManus’ third TD pass of the day capped a 97-yard, 11-play drive that started just after the Huskers failed to deliver the knockout blow. Leading by 28-24 midway in the fourth quarter, Nebraska had driven from its 26-yard line to the FSU 2, where alternate I-back Tyreese Knox appeared headed for the end zone and a clinching touchdown. But a Seminole defender reached up from the pile and stripped the ball loose.

TFL of Sammie Smith

The Huskers’ Steve Forch (38), Tim Jackson (4) and Neil Smith (99) corral FSU’s Sammie Smith for a third-down loss.

Florida State defensive tackle Eric Hayes captured the ball at the 3, and the Seminoles still had a life — but 97 yards of real estate lay between them and the Sunkist Fiesta Bowl Trophy.

McManus threw for 375 yards in the game, his career high by an even 100, and Florida State needed virtually every one of those yards. The Nebraska defense, led by tackle Neil Smith, the defensive player of the game, completely shut down the Seminole running attack. The Black Shirts held Florida State to 82 yards on the ground, including 28 by star tailback Sammie Smith, who had averaged 123.0 yards per game during the regular season.

McManus, voted the game’s top offensive player, was brilliant in the winning drive. He passed on its first seven plays, and completed five for 95 yards, the last a 43-yard strike to tailback Dexter Carter which carried to the Nebraska 2 — but then disaster almost struck the Seminoles.

On third down, McManus had to settle for a 3-yard pass to tight end Pat Carter. Faced with a fourth-and-goal at the Nebraska 15, he found Lewis wide open in the middle of the end zone for the winner.

Nebraska and quarterback Steve Taylor weren’t dead yet, though. Starting at his 20, Taylor completed passes to Morgan Gregory for a 10 yards and Todd Millikan for 12, then came up with what would have been the play of the game. However, his 56-yard pass to Gregory to the FSU 2 was called back on an illegal-procedure penalty because Nebraska had lined up with not enough men on the line of scrimmage — effectively ending Nebraska’s hopes.

The Husker loss came in spite of an early 14-0 lead that had been set up by the kicking game. A 27-yard punt return by Richard Bell led to an 18-yard scoring drive in the first six minutes of the game, capped by Keith Jones’ 1-yard touchdown run. Later in the period, Dana Brinson ripped the Seminoles with a 52-yard punt-return touchdown. Florida State came back with three second-quarter touchdowns to take a 21-14 halftime lead, but Nebraska regained its momentum after halftime and took the 28-24 lead into the fourth quarter.