MIAMI GARDENS-- It has been a trying couple of weeks for Florida State running back Devonta Freeman. Freeman's first cousin Anthony Darling, who grew up so close with Freeman the two consider each other brothers, was shot in killed in an altercation the week leading up to a showdown with Clemson.
As Freeman dealt with the tragic loss off the field, the sophomore fell out of the tailback rotation as he failed to register a carry in three straight games following Darling's death. Last week though the Seminoles' 2011-leading rusher looked like he was ready to be a big part of the FSU offense again as he churned out 70 yards on eight carries.
Back in his hometown on Saturday night, Freeman ran for 70 yards again, this time on 10 carries, and found the endzone twice as FSU defeated the Hurricanes 33-20.
"It felt great. There's just no feeling like it," Freeman said. "Especially with a W. It just felt great to have a win in my backyard."
Freeman admitted he got down during the three-game stretch when he wasn't playing much. But rather than turning the lack of touches into a negative, he said he used the time to get even more comfortable with the playbook.
Freeman grew up in Miami and was a four-star prospect out of Miami Central High. The 5-foot-8, 200-pound tailback said he had 14 family members in attendance on Saturday, as well as the members of the youth team in Liberty City he and Miami running back Duke Johnson once starred for.
Despite all that was going on with Freeman personally and with his team, as he averaged seven yards per carry against the Hurricanes he couldn't help but think of the younger Miami kids in the stands.
"I just wanted to show out for them, knowing that they could do it too coming from the same park that they come from," Freeman said. "I just wanted to show them that anything is possible, because a lot of them are going through hard times like me so I just wanted to show them that anything is possible."
Throughout the night it did seem as if anything was possible, as the undermanned Hurricanes somehow were down just three points to FSU in the fourth quarter. With 11:53 left in the game Freeman capped off a 74-yard scoring drive with a tremendous three-yard touchdown run that was all second effort.
Freeman's first score since the third week of the season against Savannah State put FSU ahead 23-13, and finally gave it the breathing room it had struggled for all night.
"I was going to do whatever it took to score the touchdown and I knew that was going to give us some breathing room," Freeman said. "So I just tried to do whatever it takes to get in the endzone thanks to the offensive lineman."
With 1:25 left in the game Freeman put Miami away for good with a five-yard touchdown run. The touchdowns and the win won't bring Darling back, but the the ever-optimistic Freeman knows he can't do anything to change that.
"I was told a long time ago you can't never try to clear a stormy cloud up," Freeman said.
On crutches was not how senior running back Chris Thompson was hoping to spend his birthday on Saturday night.
After a 32-yard reception in the second quarter Thompson went down to the turf awkwardly as he was tackled. He would not return in the game due to a knee injury.
X-rays during halftime of his knee were negative, but the extent of the injury won't be know until a Monday MRI.
"We'll have to wait and see," said head coach Jimbo Fisher. "We'' have to wait for the MRI on Monday and see. You Know it's scary. It scared me a little bit but I don't want to make a statement yet."
Thompson was on the sideline in sweats for the second half. In his limited action in the game Thompson ran for 47 yards on seven carries, and added two receptions for 47 yards.
With Thompson out, sophomore running backs James Wilder and Devonta Freeman picked up the slack. Wilder ran for 49 yards to go along with Freeman's 70, as FSU finished the game with 218 yards on 41 attempts.
During halftime senior fullback Lonnie Pryor told the pair of sophomores that the ground game would now fall on their shoulders. The trio wrote CT4 on their wrists to honor Thompson as they grinded out a win over Miami.
"To see him go down it hurt me," said Pryor. "He's Ok and I told Freeman and James, its on us. We're going to play this game for Chris. Freeman and James stepped in and did a phenomenal job."
Fisher makes it a hat trick over Miami
With Saturday nights win over Miami, Jimbo Fisher is now a combined 5-0 against the University of Miami and the University of Florida as the Seminoles' head coach. The wins make up just the second five-win streak over the Sunshine State rivals in school history.
The three straight victories over Miami are the first for FSU since winning five in a row over the Hurricanes from 1995 to 1998.
"It's a rivalry game, that's what you play for," Fisher said. "I think it's great for recruiting. I think it's important for our kids that we put emphasis on those games and they're big in our program and we look to those games."
Senior quarterback EJ Manuel is now part of a senior class that boasts a 3-1 record over Miami, including a pair of road victories.
The signal caller is also just the fifth QB in school history to defeat Miami twice, and joins only Thad Busby and Chris Weinke as guys who have done it in consecutive season.
"It's a huge thing," Manuel said after the game. "I think I won't realize it right now. But when I'm, 10, 15 years down the road I'll be able to say we beat Miami three years in a row and I beat them twice as a starter, so that's a huge accomplishment."
With one catch for 11 yards, Rodney Smith has now caught a pass in 33 consecutive games.
It was a pair of career-firsts for Tyler Hunter and Mario Edwards on Saturday night. Hunter, a sophomore DB, recorded the first interception of his career in the second quarter. Edwards, a freshman defensive end, recorded his first career sack in the third quarter as he was credited with 0.5 of a sack.
Senior kicker Dustin Hopkins moved up another three spots on the career NCAA scoring list for kickers with 15 points on Saturday night. The Houston native now has a career 417 points, good for fifth-place all-time.
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