Noles finish strong again, FSU 26, NC State 17

RALEIGH, N.C. -- In the days leading up to Florida State's showdown at N.C. State, offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher refused to give any credence to the concept of a Thursday night curse.
Though there had been a string of highly publicized upsets in the nationally televised mid-week games - and the Seminoles have had their own checkered history on Thursdays - Fisher insisted it was much ado about nothing.
Thursday night at Carter-Finley Stadium, Florida State's players backed up Fisher's words. With a ball-control offense and another strong effort from place-kicker Graham Gano, the Seminoles rallied back from two deficits to pull out a 26-17 victory.
FSU improved to 5-1 on the season and 2-1 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Coupled with last week's win at Miami, the Seminoles have recorded back-to-back road victories for the first time they won at Syracuse and Wake Forest in 2004.
And to FSU coach Bobby Bowden, this victory was perhaps more impressive than the win at Miami. In that game, the Seminoles sprinted out to an early lead and then held on down the stretch.
This time, Florida State had to rally for the win - not once, but twice.
"I can't remember the last time we won a game like that," Bowden said. "We usually get beat in that type of game. In the last few years, we've usually lost that type of ball game.
"It's especially difficult here at North Carolina State, with a packed crowd and a loud crowd. I think our guys were all caught up watching that and then we finally woke up and put things together. We finally won one of these games."
Florida State also broke a two-game losing streak on Thursday nights - the Seminoles lost last season at Wake Forest and two years ago at N.C. State.
For a while, it appeared that FSU might be in for a similar fate. The Seminoles allowed underdog N.C. State to score on its first two possessions and sprint out to a 10-0 lead.
But from that point on, Florida State controlled the action -- and the clock. The Wolfpack (2-5) would score only one more time, on a 67-yard pass on the first play of the fourth quarter. FSU's offense, meanwhile, put together a series of methodical scoring drives to take over the game.
Gano's first two field goals - a pair of 37-yarders - allowed the Seminoles to trim the deficit to 10-6 at halftime. And FSU claimed its first lead of the game early in the third quarter when senior tailback Antone Smith broke loose for a 27-yard touchdown run.
In a play similar to his game-clinching touchdown run at Miami, Smith sprinted through the heart of N.C. State's defense, broke a tackle at the 15-yard line and carried a Wolfpack defender into the end zone.
N.C. State reclaimed the lead, 17-13, on that 67-yard pass from Russell Wilson to Owen Spencer. But the Seminoles responded on their next possession.
Sophomore quarterback Christian Ponder capped off an 11-play, 70-yard drive with a 17-yard touchdown pass to freshman receiver Bert Reed that gave FSU a 20-17 advantage. Reed caught a bubble screen pass, got great blocks from fellow receivers Preston Parker and Corey Surrency, then juked a defender to reach the end zone untouched.
After forcing a three-and-out on defense, the Seminoles put together a drive that took more than four minutes of game clock. This one ended with a 44-yard field goal from Gano to make it 23-17 with 4:33 left.
Gano then booted a 53-yarder with 1:53 remaining to seal the victory.
"They couldn't stop us," Ponder said. "We knew as long as we didn't hurt ourselves, we were going to do well."
Ponder, who had been looking for a breakthrough passing performance, finished the night with 254 yards on 23-of-35 passing.
As has been a trend in recent weeks, the Seminoles held a commanding advantage in time of possession - 38:16 to 21:44. They were equally dominant in converting third-down attempts - FSU was 10-for-17, while N.C. State was only 1-for-9.
"It came down to third downs," N.C. State coach Tom O'Brien said. "We had to stay on the field, and we couldn't. I think it's the third week in a row that we're playing more defense than we are offense. We have to get back to the drawing board."
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