Only one Bowden, and he’s a winner
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP)—Bobby Bowden doesn’t care all that much for birthdays these days.
Winning, now that’s something the 79-year-old Florida State coach is always up for celebrating.
Christian Ponder threw for a touchdown and ran for another, Antone Smith ran for two scores, and the 24th-ranked Seminoles defeated Clemson 41-27 to give Bowden his 380th victory on his 79th birthday.
“It was a very happy birthday,” he said.
A crowd of nearly 80,000 serenaded Bowden with a rousing version of “Happy Birthday” in the final moments of the game. He is now 5-1 in games coached on his birthday and just one victory behind Penn State’s Joe Paterno, whose team lost Saturday at Iowa, for the most in major college football history.
Bowden has been pulling for his longtime buddy, Paterno.
“I was kinda hoping he’d win the national championship this year,” Bowden said. “That would be kinda tough now.
“No matter what happens to him, my teams must win,” added Bowden, who now has matched his victory total of the last two seasons with three games remaining.
Florida State (7-2, 4-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) overcame an early 10-0 deficit to lead 20-17 at halftime after both teams converted turnovers into touchdowns.
It was the fourth straight week the Seminoles have spotted an opponent at least 10 points—rallying for wins in three of those, losing the other on a last-minute fumble.
“You always wonder what we’re going to do. Are we going fold or are we going to come back like we have all year?” Bowden said. “This team has already set its personality on that thing.”
The win makes Florida State bowl eligible for the 27th consecutive season— now the longest streak in the country—and keeps them tied with Wake Forest for first place in the ACC’s Atlantic Division.
Clemson (4-5, 2-4) had won the last three games in the series under Bowden’s son, Tommy Bowden, who was fired last month after a 3-3 start. Interim Clemson coach Dabo Swinney is 1-2 since taking over.
Bowden, however, said he took no special joy from beating Clemson.
“I like it that Tommy wasn’t there,” he said. “It’s not like I had vengeance or anything like that. I’ve learned not to do that.”
Clemson started fast with C.J. Spiller going 44 yards on a short pass from Cullen Harper to finish off a quick 80-yard opening drive. The Tigers went ahead 10-0 five minutes later Mark Buchholz’s 41-yard field goal.
Harper threw for 240 yards and two touchdowns, but it was his costly interception that got Florida State started.
Defensive end Neefy Moffett scored on an 18-yard interception of an ill-advised throw by Harper to get the Seminoles a 10-10 tie, a minute and 40 seconds after Florida State’s Graham Gano stretched his school mark to 16 straight field goals with a 52-yard kick.
“You can’t make mistakes like that against a team like Florida State,” Swinney said, adding the protection broke down on Moffett’s interception. “We absolutely just got whipped on some matchups.”
It was Moffett’s first interception and touchdown at Florida State.
“The first thing I thought in my mind was ‘I can’t fumble, I can’t fumble.”’ the 260-pound Moffett said. “So I tried to tuck it in … I high-kneed in for the touchdown.”
After Gano put Florida State up 13-10 with his 17th consecutive made field goal, this from 37 yards, Clemson took its last lead at 17-13 on Harper’s 8-yard touchdown pass to Michael Palmer. The Tigers were set up when they recovered a fumbled punt by Florida State’s Tony Carter at the Seminoles 9.
Ponder’s 1-yard TD run put Florida State the lead for keeps at 20-17 with 1:25 left in the half and he hit Corey Surrency on a 14-yard touchdown pass on the opening drive of the second half as the Seminoles stretched their advantage to 27-17.
Smith scored his 12th and 13th rushing touchdowns of the season on runs of 1 and 41 yards in the fourth quarter around Spiller’s 2-yard TD that got Clemson to within a touchdown with 2:20 left.
Clemson had the first 132 yards of offense, but Florida State finished with 419 to the Tigers’ 316. Florida State had six sacks.
“They’re a very, very good defense,” said Swinney. “They’re top five in the nation for a reason.”