Three years into the Jimbo Fisher era, the Florida State Seminoles were in rebound mode from the end of Bobby Bowden’s tenure. In 2012, the Seminoles were coming off two decent years in which they combined to go 19-8 and received bids to the Chick-fil-A and Champs Sports Bowl games. The Seminoles entered that season ranked seventh and had high hopes to win their first ACC Championship Game since 2005. The Noles opened the 2012 campaign with three blowout wins before beating No. 10 Clemson by 12 and USF by 13. On October 6, the Noles headed to Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh to play a North Carolina State Wolfpack team that had already dropped two games.
The Wolfpack opened their season by falling to Tennessee in the Chick-fil-A kickoff game by 14 points. Then the Pack won three straight games against UConn (by three), South Alabama (by 24), and The Citadel (by 38). In their fifth game of the season, the Wolfpack fell to Miami by seven points on the road.
The 5-0 and third-ranked Seminoles were a 17-point favorite heading into this game, and after the first half they looked like they were going to cover that point spread easily. Led by E.J. Manuel, FSU scored on four of its first six drives while holding N.C. State to three punts, an interception, and a fumble in the first half. The problem for FSU, even though it took a 16-point lead into the locker room, was that it was able to find the end zone only once. The inability to finish drives would come back to haunt the Noles.
N.C. State’s second half comeback wasn’t sudden, it was gradual. Defense was the name of the game for the Pack as it started to shut down the FSU offense. In the third quarter, FSU’s three drives ended with two punts and an interception. FSU got the ball first in the third quarter but after a three and out, a drive started for N.C. State that gave the underdogs a glimmer of hope. The Pack started on its own 12 yard line but worked its way all the way to the FSU 10 over the course of a 15-play, 78-yard drive that took over six minutes. The Pack came away with just a field goal, but every member of that offensive unit knew it could move the ball on FSU.
The Pack’s next drive resulted in a three-and-out, but after that, North Carolina State was able to move the ball on each possession, putting together four drives that all went at least seven plays.
One of the key plays of the game happened with Florida State driving into Pack territory. Manuel had just zipped a 17-yard pass over the middle for a first down, and the Noles appeared to be rolling. Two plays later it was third and 10, and Manuel dropped back and tried to hit a quick slant. However, N.C. State’s Juston Burris jumped the route and picked off the pass to give the Pack a huge momentum change.
N.C. State went seven plays and scored on a Mike Glennon pass over the middle to Shadrach Thornton. This put the Wolfpack down six points with almost an entire quarter left to play.
FSU quickly rebounded when Manuel hit Kelvin Benjamin for a 27-yard gain and then Rodney Smith for 20 more yards. FSU had a 1st and 10 on the N.C. State 27 and appeared to have the game back in hand. Two short plays later, Manuel rolled out on a third and 2 and had nowhere to go due to pressure from the Pack defense. Manuel turned around to head the other way, but he was sacked by Dontae Johnson for a big 15-yard loss. This put FSU in a 4th and 17 on the N.C. State 34, and FSU punted, as Fisher decided to play field position football.
FSU preserved a six-point lead and the teams traded fruitless possessions. With 2:27 left in the game, the Pack got the ball back on the FSU 43 after a partially blocked punt that resulted in just a 10-yard kick for the Noles.
N.C. State had a chance… that glimmer of hope remained, but the upstarts still had to earn it. Immediately, N.C. State found itself in a third-and-10 situation, and Glennon scrambled for eight yards, which set up a fourth down. With good protection, Glennon zipped one over the middle to Asa Watson for the first down.
The next big play was a fourth and 10 from the FSU 14 with 1:14 left in the game. Glennon sat in the pocket and delivered a strike to Quinton Payton over the middle. The Noles had good coverage, but Payton secured the catch inside the FSU 5.
After three unsuccessful attempts inside the 5 and a near interception, the game came down to one more fourth-down play. Glennon took the snap in the shotgun. Bryan Underwood ran a delayed slant and came wide open in the middle of the end zone. Glennon hit him on the numbers for the game-winning touchdown.
Florida State could not answer in the limited time it had, and the Wolfpack came away with one of the biggest upsets of the 2012 season, dashing the Seminoles’ national championship hopes early in the season.
Two years later, these teams find themselves in a similar situation. Florida State is the team to beat and is an 18.5-point favorite as it heads to Carter-Finley Stadium. Can lightning strike twice?