Three weeks ago, Florida State coach Mike Norvell sat alone at home and watched his team lose embarrassingly to compete with Miami in yet another disappointing loss for a program that sought a way to turn the corner.
Maybe that’s what happened Saturday against North Carolina. Playing with an intensity, passion and energy that has been lacking in recent years, the Seminoles No. 5 disturbed North Carolina 31-28 Saturday night, holding on to a victory they desperately needed to build the kind of confidence and momentum that every freshman coach wants while building his program.
Florida State came into the game as a double-digit underdog at home, in large part because of its poor performance to open the season. But Norvell saw improvements in a loss to Notre Dame last week, and it gave him hope that there would be more to come against Tar Heels.
In fact, Florida State sent its first win as a non-ranked team versus an AP top-5 opponent since 2007 against No. 2 Boston College. All of this would have been hard to imagine in late September, when Norvell missed the Miami game due to a positive coronavirus test, and the Seminoles were rolled out in front of a national television audience.
Asked to describe the victory on Saturday, Norvell said: “There really are no words to it. It’s so special, because since December 8, the first time I walked into the meeting room with my team and this group, every moment we tried to grow and improve, believe in what’s coming.I’m telling our guys that the ultimate goal of every opportunity you get is to try to go out and be the best you.
“To see their festivities, to see the joy, to know, stacked against all odds, not many gave us a chance tonight, but they did not care what others thought of them. They did not think of any of the limitations that would be laid out in front of them.They just went out and played their game.Tonight it was about these guys.It was their moment and they certainly deserve the victory for how they prepared and how they reacted to everything they become asked to do. “
Break The Rock Coach! #NoleFamily | #KeepCLIMBing pic.twitter.com/05ic38RHol
– FSU football (@FSUFootball) October 18, 2020
Florida State jumped out to a 31-7 lead, but Tar Heels fought back. When the fourth quarter started, Tar Heels had closed the hole and run 31-21. Norvell said he pulled his entire team together with a smile on his face and told them, “Guys, this is where you trust what you do. I can not tell you what this fourth quarter will look like, but you go out there and you play the next piece. You give everything you have. You maximize your efforts in this opportunity. ‘They did it. We found a way to become a game better tonight. It will be monumental for us to continue to grow and build on this example. “
North Carolina had one last shot to win or tie the game on the last drive. When Sam Howell’s fourth pass became incomplete, a massive celebration ensued.
“It was the greatest feeling I’ve ever felt in my life to see the defense come up so big,” quarterback Jordan Travis said.
Added offensive lineman Devontay Love-Taylor, “The celebration, especially after what we’ve been through this season, the hard loss in Miami, the hard loss here for Georgia Tech, all the work we’ve put in, we felt it paid off in evening. But we will have to keep working so that it can continue to pay off. “
Norvell sees plenty to clean up, including the inability to score in the second half and too many undisciplined penalties that almost cost them the game. It comes during film study and practice next week and in the coming weeks.
“We are not perfect,” Norvell said. “We’re an ongoing job, but when you get a chance to see growth, when you see improvement, when you see investment – it’s not for everyone. We’ve had some guys who chose other things, the guys who are here they keep working, they keep trying to be the best version of themselves in all aspects of their lives.That’s what tonight is about.
“We will still push because I know we are capable of so much more.”