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    Tuesday, December 12, 2006

    Nole Bowls: 1991 Cotton Bowl

    1991 Cotton Bowl, Dallas, FSU 10 Texas A&M 2

    Outstanding defense and Mother Nature worked in tandem to create offensive headaches for Florida State and Texas A&M in the 56th Mobil Cotton Bowl Classic. Rain was a heavy contributor in the record number of turnovers that plagued both teams, but not so much as a group of fleet-footed, hard-hitting defenders who stole the spotlight from two potent offenses and turned the Classic into a low-scoring, 10-2 Florida State victory.

    The 10-2-0 Seminoles were ranked fifth nationally after holding onto the No. 1 ranking for the first 12 weeks of the season. Texas A&M was ninth in the final regular-season rankings at 10-1-0, winners of nine straight games. But Florida State was the established power. Bobby Bowden owned college football’s best post-season winning percentage, guiding the Seminoles to their 10th consecutive bowl appearance and a fifth straight season of 10 or more victories. While Bowden was firmly entrenched in Tallahassee, R. C. Slocum was launching a successful head coaching career with the Aggies. No other coach in A&M’s 97-year history had won more games in his first three seasons than Slocum.

    Yet, when the two teams collided, holding onto the football was almost too much to ask. Together, the Seminoles and Aggies spent New Year’s Day combining for 13 turnovers, tying a 33-year old Classic record. Texas A&M fumbled eight times and lost seven, and was intercepted twice. Florida State lost one of three fumbles and then endured four pass interceptions. Certainly, this wasn’t the type of game everyone expected.

    Perhaps the most telling play of the day occurred on the Aggies’ initial possession. Freshman Greg Hill broke loose on a 39-yard run and appeared to be on his way for a score before being dragged down at the one by cornerback Errol McCorvey. The football squirted loose and rolled through the end zone and out of bounds. Florida State was awarded possession of the football at the two-yard line and the Seminoles were breathing a heavy sign of relief. Hoping to seize momentum from A&M’s missed touchdown opportunity, Florida State quarterback Casey Weldon looked to strike quickly. Rolling to his right, the Heisman Trophy runnerup was trapped in the end zone and thrown to the ground for a safety by Quentin Coryatt, A&M’s swift inside linebacker. The Aggies led 2-0, but the squandered scoring opportunity would haunt them throughout the day.

    Midway through the first quarter, receiver Tony Harrison beat Florida State’s Terrell Buckley on a flag pattern inside the five-yard line. Quarterback Bucky Richardson threw a perfect pass, but the wide-open Harrison dropped the ball in full stride. Another missed opportunity occurred in the second quarter. Strong safety Chris Crooms intercepted Weldon at the Seminole 42, and returned the ball for an apparent touchdown. However, officials ruled that Crooms had stepped out of bounds at the 26-yard line while running down the sideline. Three plays later, Buckley came up with a key interception, picking off Richardson in the end zone to turn back another A&M scoring threat.

    While the Texas A&M offense sputtered, Florida State was ready to capitalize. Cornerback Clifton Abraham’s fumble recovery at the Aggie 46 set up a drive that resulted in the game’s only touchdown. Weldon’s four-yard bootleg around right end put Florida State ahead 7-2 just before the end of the first period. The teams then battled through two scoreless quarters, although another fumble recovery on the second half kickoff almost helped the Seminoles increase their lead, but Dan Mowery’s 42-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left. Offensive miscues took their toll on the Aggies well into the fourth quarter. Crooms second interception gave A&M hope and the ball at Florida State’s 16. But, freshman Wilbert Biggens fumbled the football right back to the Seminoles on a double reverse. Defensive end Dan Footman scooped up the loose ball and Florida State took control. Soon, the Seminoles would drive for the game-clinching score, a 27-yard field goal by Gerry Thomas with 2:40 to play.

    Even though defense controlled the game’s tempo, Sean Jackson clearly was the offensive spark for the Seminoles. The sophomore was thrust into the starting lineup in the absence of standout tailback Amp Lee. Jackson rushed for 119 yards on 27 carries and was named the game’s outstanding offensive player. Florida State’s triumph also tied UCLA’s national record of seven post-season victories in consecutive seasons and Bowden boosted his career bowl record to 11-3-1 for a .767 winning percentage, the best in college football at the time.

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