POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Nov 28, 2010
LAST UPDATED: 02:56 a.m. HST, Nov 28, 2010
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. » The day could not have gone any better for Florida State.
The 22nd-ranked Seminoles put the brakes on a six-year losing streak against arch rival Florida with a 31-7 victory yesterday and moments afterward slipped into next week's Atlantic Coast Conference championship game with a big boost from Maryland.
The Terrapins beat North Carolina State 38-31 to keep the Wolfpack from clinching the ACC's Atlantic Division.
"This is just a topping to a great day for us," first-year Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said. "What a perfect day for Florida State football."
Fisher's players were already celebrating what turned out to be a relatively easy win over the Gators, and the locker room got even noisier when the verdict came in from College Park, Md.
"To find out after beating Florida that you're going to the ACC championship game, that's pretty special," Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder said.
Ponder had already finished his work, throwing for 221 yards and three touchdowns in his final game at home, helping Fisher finish the regular season 9-3. Ponder connected with Rodney Smith (39 yards), Taiwan Easterling (15) and Willie Haulstead (29) on TD passes.
In his first year as a head coach at any level, Fisher and the Seminoles advanced to the ACC title game for the second time and first since 2005, when they upset Virginia Tech. The 'Noles will play the Hokies again, with the winner slated for the Orange Bowl.
Yesterday's resounding victory over Florida also gave the 45-year-old Fisher a sweep of in-state rivals. The Seminoles hammered Miami 45-17 last month.
"We're becoming a factor again in this league and a factor again in this state." Fisher said. "That makes us relevant."
The Seminoles put the game away with a 21-point second quarter, getting three touchdowns in just over 9 minutes to take a 24-7 halftime lead.
Florida (7-5) capped its worst regular season under Urban Meyer with its first loss to FSU since Meyer took over in Gainesville in 2005.
"Obviously we're down," Meyer conceded. "I didn't believe we'd be that far down, but we are."
The Gators were awful, committing four turnovers and scoring only on their opening drive. John Brantley's 21-yard touchdown to Robert Clark was set up by Andre DuBose's 62-yard kickoff return.
Florida was unable to overcome its mistakes and couldn't get its offense untracked, totaling just 276 yards, with Jordan Reed's 74 yards on 13 carries leading the way.
Nothing worked for the Gators, who had three turnovers in the first half and were stopped short on a fake punt.
Ponder lofted a 39-yard touchdown pass to Smith one play after the unsuccessful fake punt to give Florida State a 17-7 lead, just 81 seconds after Lonnie Pryor's 9-yard touchdown run gave the Seminoles the lead at 10-7. Dustin Hopkins' 38-yard field goal gave Florida State an early 3-0 lead.