61st Annual Sugar Bowl Classic ~ January 2, 1995
#7 Florida State 23 (Final: 10-1-1, #4)
#5 Florida 17 (Final: 10-2-1, #7)
How Florida State and Florida Met in the 1995 Sugar Bowl
The trouble with highly anticipated rematches, it was pointed out – and this one was billed as Overtime II – is that you never really know what you’re getting.
Would it sizzle like the first game, or fizzle like so many sequels?
Until an hour before kickoff, the Superdome scoreboards read: Florida 31, Florida State 31 going into the fifth period. The Sunshine State foes immediately picked up where they left off.
This game would sizzle.
The ‘Noles and Gators engaged in a high-powered, volatile blood-match that erased seven Sugar Bowl records that had weathered the test of time for upwards of 40 years – though two of the new records lasted less than nine minutes before they were broken again.
Warrick Dunn, the Louisiana product who was FSU’s workhorse, threw a halfback pass that became the longest completion and longest scoring pass – 73 yards to O’mar Ellison – in Sugar Bowl annals. Eight minutes of the second quarter later, Gator quarterback Danny Wuerffel hooked up with another native Louisianian, Ike Hillard, for an 82-yard strike.
There was razzle-dazzle on both sides because the head coaches, Bobby Bowden and Steve Spurrier, each believed victory was attainable only by pulling out all the stops.
“We’re just going to get there and let that thing rip,” Bowden said just before kickoff regarding an opponent he was well aware had averaged 43.4 points. “I don’t think anybody can beat them in a ball-control game. You’ve got to trade punches with them.”
The teams traded haymakers all night long.
Spurrier threw everything he had at FSU, including the kitchen sink – in the form of the Emory & Henry formation, which involves three-player triangles at both ends of the line. One player is a tackle, separated from his interior brethren, and is named for a college in Virginia that used it in the 1950s. A lateral, then a forward pass is the upshot.
But after the Gators lost 10 yards on their second play of the game in that exotic alignment, Spurrier junked it for a four-receiver set. Florida threw on four of its first five plays, and Florida State opened in the shotgun that was so successful during the fourth quarter of the earlier meeting.
With the score 3-3, the Seminoles forced a Fred Taylor fumble, which proved pivotal.
After the recovery at the FSU 36, Dunn – whose last visit to the Superdome had been two years before when his Catholic High Baton Rouge team was humiliated by Ruston High, 52-10, in the Louisiana Class 5A state championship game – brought practically every one of the 76,224 fannies in the building out of their seats by taking a lateral from Danny Kanell. Dunn, a prep quarterback, had never thrown a collegiate pass. But he pulled up and lofted the ball to Ellison, who made a spectacular reception in double coverage – making the catch off the helmet of Gator safety Michael Gilmore – and sprinted into the end zone.
“You’re one-for-one-now,” Bowden said to his game-breaking back. “That’s good enough,” said Dunn, who added he was perfectly content with his regular duties. “Believe me,” Dunn, who finished with 182 all-purpose yards, said. “I’m happy with just playing running back right now. That stuff (passing) was in high school.”
Next possession, the Seminoles came right back for another touchdown, and a 17-3 lead, on a 16-yard scoring pass from Kanell to Kez McCorvey. It was the greatest deficit Florida had faced all season.
But the Gators pulled themselves back into contention in the third quarter when Wuerffel connected on the 82-yard TD pass to Hillard, who bounced off Sean Hamlet, shook off Brooks, then outran the rest of the Semionles to the goal line.
FSU, though, would have to weather a late storm by the Gators. Wuerffel took Florida on a 17-play, 80-yard drive that ate up four minutes and 50 seconds of the fourth quarter that Florida could hardly afford – and closed the scoring oddly. Wuerffel, on a third-and-goal from inches away, stuck his arm out and appeared to break the plane of the goal line with the ball. As he held the ball out, it was knocked loose. Corey Fuller recovered for the ‘Noles and sprinted to midfield. He then spiked the ball in frustration when officials ruled Wuerffel’s maneuver a touchdown. Florida State was penalized 15 yards on the kickoff, but recovered an on-sides kick to preserve the satisfying victory.
“I do not want to play them twice ever again unless I’m coaching at Mississippi State or someplace,” Bowden said of the rematch (though he would play Florida again two years later in a rematch, and also Miami in the 2004 Orange Bowl). “It’s no fun to coach against your in-state rivals…well, it hasn’t been for six days here. It’s pretty good now.”
Recap excerpted from the book “Sugar Bowl Classic: A History” by Marty Mulé, who covered the game and the organization for decades for the New Orleans Times-Picayune.