TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - The Wide Right saga added another chapter on Saturday night. This time it was the North Carolina version.
Dustin Hopkins' 40-yard field goal attempt sailed wide right in the closing seconds, giving UNC a thrilling 37-35 upset of No. 24-ranked Florida State on a chilly Saturday night in front of a crowd of 70,157 (number of tickets distributed) at Doak Campbell Stadium. It was the second straight game the Seminoles have lost in the final minute (a fumble with 48 seconds left sealed a 28-24 loss at NC State last week).
Hopkins also had a 42-yard attempt go right of the goalposts earlier in the fourth quarter with UNC leading 34-28.
"I hate it for our football team because they battled and came back," said FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher, whose team plays its next game at home against Clemson next Saturday at 8 p.m. "I hate it for guy that kicked it. When you are kicker and a quarterback those kind of things happen to you. He's going to have plenty of opportunity because he's a great kicker. He's a phenomenal kicker."
What makes those misses sting even more is what happened earlier in the day. NC State and Maryland both suffered narrow losses in a pair of ACC games that began at noon. That gave the Seminoles (6-3, 4-2 ACC) a chance to move back into the drivers' seat in the the ACC Atlantic Division title race. Instead, the 'Noles, Wolfpack (6-3, 3-2) and Terps (6-3, 3-2) now each have two league losses, and, of course, the 'Pack own the head-to-head tiebreaker.
FSU was fortunate just to be able to put Hopkins in position to win a game for themselves.
UNC quarterback T.J. Yates looked like a Heisman candidate against an FSU defense that had excelled defending the pass for most of the season, racking up a school-record 429 passing yards. That's the most passing yards the Seminoles have surrendered since 1995 when a former Heisman winner, Danny Wuerffel, threw for 443 yards to lead Florida to a 35-24 win in 1995.
UNC's Dwight Jones racked up a career-high 233 receiving yards, which is the most FSU has surrendered in at least 29 years (Ohio State's Gary Williams had 220 in 1981).
"You can't just expect one person to save your whole game when you've had a bad game," said FSU middle linebacker Vince Williams, who replaced starter Kendall Smith for most of the game. "We never should have let it get that far."
Despite Yates and Jones' record days, it was the Seminoles who took their third lead of the game midway through the fourth quarter thanks to a strange break on a special teams play.
With UNC leading 34-28, a snap sailed over the head of their punter C.J. Feagles. He chased it down, and with no one within 20 yards, kicked the ball at the UNC 4-yard line and sent it stumbling into the end zone and out of bounds. That was an illegal play (you can't kick the ball unless it's in the end zone), giving FSU the ball at the UNC 1-yard line. On the next play, FSU fullback Lonnie Pryor took a carry and dove into the end zone and a Hopkins' extra point put FSU up 35-34 with 5:49 left.
Unfazed, UNC answered with a 12-play, 72-yard drive that was highlighted by a 31-yard throw between Yates and Jones. That set up Barth's third field goal, a 22-yarder that put UNC back ahead by the final margin with 55 seconds remaining.
An exciting 50-yard kick return by Greg Reid gave FSU's offense the ball back at UNC's 45-yard line. Three Christian Ponder completions gave FSU the ball on the 20-yard line. On the next play, Ponder took a knee in between the hash marks and called a timeout to set up Hopkins' game-winning attempt with seven seconds left.
After UNC used a timeout, the ball was snapped and it started moving right almost instantly after it left Hopkins' foot.
"It was a great opportunity," Hopkins said. "I walked out there and was feeling really good. It was an awesome snap and (holder) Shawn (Powell) held it well. Right when it came off my foot I realized I left my hips open."
FSU fell behind to start the game for the third straight time, trailing 7-0 and 14-7 at the end of the first quarter. But, a 21-point third-quarter put the Seminoles up 28-21 at halftime.
Ponder finished with a season-high 264 passing yards and three touchdown passes, all of which came in the first half.
FSU receiver Willie Haulstead had 10 catches for 154 yards, both numbers were easily career-highs, and a touchdown.
Ponder moved to third place on FSU's career passing yards list, moving ahead of Danny Kannel and Gary Huff. Ponder now has 6,475 passing yards.
This was UNC's first win at Tallahassee in the all-time series, which FSU now leads 15-2-1.
Former FSU baseball great Buster Posey will be honored during Saturday's home game against Clemson. Posey recently won the World Series with the San Francisco Giants.
FSU's Brandon Jenkins had two sacks and now has 10 for the season.
FSU running back Ty Jones, who had 108 rushing yards last week, did not play and Fisher said he was healthy after the game.
Sophomore Rhonne Sanderson made his first start of the year at right guard in place of Bryan Stork (illness) who was supposed to replace starter David Spurlock (concussion). Neither Stork or Spurlock dressed out.
The honorary captains were former FSU players Dan Footman (1991-92) and Brian Allen (1997-00). Footman is defensive end Dan Hicks' father.