Top-ranked Florida State absorbed the best shot Oklahoma State could muster Saturday night at AT&T Stadium, then countered with the late knockout blow.
Two fourth-quarter defensive stops and a back-breaking 50-yard touchdown pass from Jameis Winston to Rashad Greene delivered the Seminoles a 37-31 season-opening victory in the AdvoCare Cowboys Classic.
“We didn’t play well; like we wanted,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “A lot of credit goes to Oklahoma State, but we still made critical plays when we had to make critical plays. And there’s something to that.”
None were bigger than the one cornerback P.J. Williams made with 4:41 remaining and the Seminoles clinging to a 30-24 lead.
Upending OSU quarterback J.W. Walsh, Williams forced and recovered a fumble at the Seminoles’ 48. Two plays later, Greene corralled Winston’s pass, split two Cowboys defenders, racing untouched for a score to cap his career-best performance.
Roberto Aguayo’s third field goal of the night on the previous possession – set up by a Mario Edwards Jr. sack and intentional grounding penalty which forced an OSU punt - provided the Seminoles with a 30-24 lead. His point-after following Greene’s score provided a 13-point cushion that voided a late touchdown run by Walsh.
“It changed the momentum and gave us the ball back where we could get points,” said Fisher, after Edwards and DeMarcus Walker chased Walsh into a sack and a net loss of 14 yards after the grounding penalty.
Winston completed 25 of 40 attempts for 370 yards, and Greene collected 11 receptions for a career-high 203 yards as the Seminoles set a school record with their 18th consecutive victory.
Jalen Ramsey and Terrance Smith had 12 tackles each to lead the Seminole defense, which surrendered 364 total yards. FSU managed 476 in total offense, despite converting only 4 of 14 third down plays.
“We had a couple opportunities to put the game away, and that just comes with it being the first game,” said Winston, assessing the opener. “We have to get better. That’s an eye-opener.”
The action-packed finish offset a laborious first half effort by the Seminoles that only ESPN Gameday celebrity picker “Stone Cold” Steve Austin could appreciate.
After jumping out to a 17-0 lead, the Seminoles were forced to dig in after the Cowboys twice cut the lead to three points in the second half.
Winston’s 28-yard touchdown gallop – the longest run of his career - with 5:28 remaining in the third quarter gave the Noles 27-17 lead. Walsh countered with a 24-yard touchdown run to trim the margin back to 27-24.
That’s when the FSU defense, which limited the Cowboys to 129 total yards in the first half, dug in to seal the victory.
Austin, the former professional wrestling champion-turned-actor, picked the Seminoles to win with conviction earlier in the day on the Gameday set.
He had not counted on Winston tossing two interceptions before intermission, nor the Seminoles managing just 27 rushing yards on 11 carries against an OSU defense with seven new starters.
The Seminoles jumped out to a 10-0 first quarter lead on Aguayo’s 36-yard field goal and Nate Andrews’ 9-yard interception return for a touchdown, which came in a 14-second span.
Winston looked very much like the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner on FSU’s lone touchdown drive of the half, completing 4-of-6 attempts for 80 yards. The big play came when Winston rifled a deep out to Greene for 51 yards to the OSU 29.
Two plays later, on his first career carry, redshirt sophomore tailback Mario Pender bulled his way into the end zone at the end of 11-yard run as the Noles pushed their lead to 17-0 with 8:19 to play in the half.
Surprisingly, the 94-yard scoring drive – the longest in a college game at AT&T Stadium – seemed to awaken the Cowboys.
Oklahoma State, which had not sustained a drive longer than eight plays on its first five possessions, responded in momentum-changing fashion. Picking up the pace between snaps, the Cowboys marched 75 yards on 11 plays, five of which went to speedster Tyreek Hill for 44 yards.
Desmond Roland’s 1-yard touchdown run with 3:58 remaining in the half pulled the Cowboys within 17-7.
Winston’s second interception, by Ashton Lampkin with 29 seconds remaining, led to Ben Grogan’s half-ending 37-yard field goal to trim the lead to 17-10.