TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - The fans finally showed up, and although it took a little longer than expected, Florida State ultimately rewarded them.
The No. 16-ranked Seminoles came from behind twice and managed to survive a three-interception day from Christian Ponder while extending their winning streak to five straight with a 24-19 triumph over Boston College on Saturday afternoon. The win took place in front of a nearly full Doak Campbell Stadium, which housed its biggest crowd of the year at 75,301 (number of tickets distributed).
The Seminoles (6-1, 4-0 ACC) which entered as a 21-point favorite, are now off to their best start in league play since 2003 and exacted some revenge along the way. The Eagles (2-4, 0-3), which have now lost four straight, had won the last two meetings between the teams and the last two in Tallahassee.
"Good football teams aren't always good. They are good when they have to be," FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher said. "I feel very relieved and very fortunate to come out with a victory even though we didn't play well in certain aspects. I still think we fought and stayed in the game. My hats off to defense. They held us in the game."
With FSU holding the ball near midfield and trailing 19-17 midway through the fourth quarter, Fisher made the play call of the game. Ponder headed right on what appeared to be an option, but receiver Bert Reed, who lined up on the right, headed left and took a toss from Ponder and then took off into into open space down the sideline. Reed reached the goal line and jumped over a defender to get into the end zone for the winning score.
"I saw (receiver) Taiwan Easterling had great block and went outside of him and then (running back) Jermaine (Thomas) had a great block," Reed said. "Then I saw nothing but green grass and had to get (to the end zone) then."
The Seminoles survived a horrific day from Ponder, who had one of his picks returned for BC's only touchdown of the day, and also had a lost fumble. It was the third time the fifth-year senior accounted for four turnovers in a game and the first time they've won in that scenario.
Ponder was actually fortunate it wasn't worse. An offsides call negated another pick that was returned for a score. He did throw two touchdown passes, but many of his throws were late or off target and he finished 19-of-31 for 170 yards.
Ponder had a the bursa sack on his throwing elbow come open in the first quarter and was wearing a sling after the game, but he said the injury had nothing to do with his performance.
"I got to thank my teammates," Ponder said. "They pulled me out of it. I didn't really give us a chance at all to win. We were able to pull it out. It proves the character we have on this team."
The defense certainly showed plenty of character, especially when it came to the red zone. All four of the Eagles' trips inside the FSU 20 resulted in field goals from Nate Freese, including two that were set up by Ponder turnovers.
On the first play from scrimmage, BC running back Montel Harris took off through a huge hole up the middle and past the FSU defense and would have scored had it not been for cornerback Greg Reid chasing him down from behind on what turned out to be a 72-yard gain. Instead, the Eagles had to settle for a 33-yard field goal.
"The first play we had the wrong personnel," Fisher said. "They got a call from up top and thought they were in one back but they had two tight ends in. We were in nickel and one gap short. My hats off to Reid for running the guy down and making the play."
Harris had 138 rushing yards within the game's first four minutes - he had a 48-yard run on BC's next drive - but the Jacksonville, Florida native finished with 191 rushing yards. But unlike last year, when he scored two touchdowns in BC's 28-21 win over FSU, he didn't find the end zone once.
The defense, which came into the game leading the nation in sacks per game, added four more, including two from Brandon Jenkins, who finished with a career-high nine tackles and 3.5 tackles for a loss.
After Reed's decisive score, the defense forced a quick punt and the offense took over from its own 21 with 7:48 remaining. They proceeded to run 10 straight running plays to seal the outcome, including on a 4th-and-1 conversion from the BC 34-yard line where Ty Jones narrowly was awarded the first down after BC challenged the spot.
The offense scored 14 unanswered points on a 3-yard throw to fullback Lonnie Pryor and a 10-yarder to tight end Beau Reliford to give FSU a 14-6 lead at the half.
Dustin Hopkins added a 26-yard field goal in the third quarter and had touchbacks on three of his five kickoffs.
This is the 10th time FSU has opened up 4-0 in the ACC and the Seminoles went on to win the conference title each of the previous times.
FSU has now secured bowl eligibility for the 29th straight year, which is the longest streak in the NCAA.
FSU's four-game streak of rushing for 200 yards or more came to an end as they finished with 174 on the ground.
FSU moved to 5-4 in the all-time series against BC.
The first BCS rankings of the year will be released on Sunday at 8:15 p.m. On ESPN.
Fisher dedicated the victory to Ariel Gandy, a 17-year old Tallahassee native who was recently diagnosed with terminal liver cancer. Gandy was a guest at the game and on the sideline.
FSU's gameday captains were Ponder, Hopkins and linebacker Kendall Smith.