CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA -- On the 10th anniversary of Florida State's first conference loss, the same demons that haunted the 'Noles a decade earlier rose up from Scott Stadium. As was the case on that memorable October night, the Cavaliers were shooting on all cylinders while the Seminoles were just tying to keep up. When the dust settled, FSU (5-1, 3-1 ACC) suffered its first loss of the season while UVA (4-2, 2-2 ACC) may have salvaged its season.
The 'Noles downfall this time around was a combination of penalties, turnovers and a Virginia quarterback that did a very good Michael Vick impression buying extra time all night with his quick feet. Senior Marques Hagans not only eluded FSU defenders at nearly every turn, he sliced and diced an inexperienced secondary for a career-high 306 yards and two touchdowns.
"We couldn't stop number 18 (Hagans)," head coach Bobby Bowden said. "I've never seen a quarterback make as many one-man plays as he made tonight."
When Hagans wasn't pulling his Houdini act, FSU was shooting itself in the foot with penalties. All in all the 'Noles committed a season-high 13 penalties for 123 yards. One of those penalties negated a 23-yard touchdown run by Leon Washington in the second quarter that would have put the 'Noles up 17-13, but instead they came up empty. Then on UVA's first drive of the third quarter, Hagans was picked off by linebacker A.J. Nicholson but the play was erased by a roughing the passer call on Ernie Sims.
"As a competitor you hate to see when plays get called back," running back Leon Washington told Warchant.com. "It's tough. It's kind of like you are killing yourself."
Freshman quarterback Drew Weatherford pretty much moved the Seminole offense down the field at will, racking up 377 yards on 35-for-59 passing, but two costly first half interceptions led to 10 Cavalier points. He also had a chance at the end of the game to move the offense down the field but threw his third pick of the evening.
"I didn't make very good decisions tonight," Weatherford conceded. "That pretty much explains it."
At halftime, FSU found itself in a 23-10 hole with very few positives to take into the locker room. On Virginia's first drive of the third quarter, they quickly added three more to extend the lead to 26-10. But FSU would fight back in the fourth quarter.
The Seminoles pulled within 26-18 with 12:31 to play when Chris Davis caught a short pass from Weatherford and ran down the right sideline for a 22-yard score. Instead of going for an extra point, Weatherford found freshman Greg Carr in the middle of the endzone for a two-point conversion pass to cut the Cavs' lead to eight.
On the 'Noles next offensive series, Weatherford engineered a 11-play drive that ended in a 32-yard Gary Cismesia field goal to narrow the score to 26-21 with 7:35 left.
It looked like the FSU defense made a key stop late in the fourth quarter when cornerback Tony Carter knocked away a third down Hagans pass intended for Deyon Williams. However, once again the penalty bug bit the Seminoles when an official called the freshman cornerback for pass interference. Instead of having well over three minutes and a timeout left for a possible game-winning offensive drive, that penalty allowed the home team to chew the clock up to under one minute before they punted.
With no timeouts and the clock very much a factor, Weatherford was forced to throw into coverage and was picked off by Tony Franklin for the game-clinching play.
With the loss, FSU moves to 3-1 in the ACC but is still in control of its own destiny in the conference. Should the 'Noles defeat their last four conference opponents (Duke, NC State, Maryland and Clemson) they will play in the December 3rd ACC Championship game.