With a backdrop of a Superdome filled to the rafters with a festive and raucous crowd, FSU’s Peter Warrick caught six passes for 163 yards and set a Sugar Bowl record by scoring 20 points. Michael Vick, Virginia Tech’s redshirt freshman quarterback, guided his team to 503 yards, most ever in a losing Sugar Bowl effort.
There was seldom a moment for anyone to catch their breath.
Warrick helped stake the Seminoles to a 28-7 lead in the first half; however Vick galvanized the Hokies to a stupifying comeback that actually put Virginia Tech ahead 29-28 at the end of the third quarter. Then Warrick and Florida State took over again.
In a game that spent the energies of fan and athlete alike, Vick began lighting the fuse to blow up Florida State’s No. 1 dream from the opening kickoff, driving the Hokies to within hailing distance of the Seminole end zone three times, only to come up empty. Most costly was a lost Tech fumble at the FSU 1 on the Hokies’ first drive.
Warrick, who was held to one catch for seven yards in the ’97 title game, erased that memory quickly. After a Tech threat was quelled, he opened the scoring by grabbing a 64-yard touchdown from Chris Weinke.
Until that moment, Virginia Tech had outgained the Seminoles 123-8.
“I’ve never been so focused before a game in my life,” the 5-foot-11 Warrick mused afterward. “I was just going to go into this game to do what I’ve done all season – go out and make plays.”
Then Tech yielded another quick touchdown to FSU when the ‘Noles blocked a Hokie punt, and Jeff Chaney grabbed the bouncing ball and ran into the end zone from the 6-yard line. All of a sudden, the Sugar had the appearance of a rout-in-the-making until André Davis latched onto a 49-yard pass from Vick with 30 seconds left in the first quarter.
Weinke threw another scoring strike of 63 yards to Ron Dugans to make it 21-7 – the 21 points to that point were more than the Hokies had allowed in any full game all season.
And Warrick still had some magic to weave.
Still early in the second quarter, standing on the FSU 40, Warrick raised his arms in the air – then raised the roof. Fielding a punt on the bounce, Warrick dodged one defender, blew past two more, then sprinted down the sideline for a 59-yard touchdown that ratcheted the Seminoles’ lead to a very comfortable 28-7.
The fireworks, though, were just beginning. Vick closed the margin with a three-yard TD run just before the half, setting the stage for a quarter Vick owned as perhaps no Sugar Bowl player since Steve Spurrier three and a half decades before had.
The 19-year-old virtuoso sidestepped Seminoles all across the Superdome floor, disappearing like smoke as they zeroed in on him. Dashing right, then left, Vick gained 43 yards to set up the Hokies’ second touchdown.
Scrambling so much as to make the FSU defense dizzy, Vick kept breathing life into his bunch of underdogs and pushing the Hokies all the way to a stunning one-point lead with two minutes left in the third quarter. Vick had energized his Hokies enough to drive them to four touchdowns in five possessions.
This was the moment of truth for the Seminoles. “All the hard work in the offseason,” FSU nose guard Corey Simon reflected. “It all came down to this. We couldn’t quit when they got ahead.”
And FSU didn’t, reclaiming control and blowing open the game with 18 unanswered points in the fourth quarter – with the senior Warrick giving Florida State fans something to remember him by, a juggling catch in the end zone for a 43-yard touchdown, despite obvious interference by a defensive back.
The two teams combined for 10 touchdowns, a Sugar Bowl record 75 points, 862 yards, and Virginia Tech scored the most points ever by a losing team in the Sugar Bowl. Something to think about was Vick’s 322 total yards of offense – despite being sacked seven times.
Bobby Bowden finally joined his sons Terry and Tommy by completing his first perfect season in his 40 years as a head coach.
The Seminoles found a little notch in history, too. They became the first team to go wire-to-wire as the top team since the preseason rankings began in 1950. Before 1950 there were two regular season wire-to-wire champions, Notre Dame in 1943 and Army in 1945.
Now there were three, in no small measure because of the determination of Warrick, who knew he had something to atone for.
“When I leave Florida State,” he said thinking of his slow start in the early season, “I want people to think of me as a good person, on and off the field. I went out as a champion. This is the national championship. No one can ever take this away from me.”
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.
FSU: Peter Warrick 64 yd pass from Chris Weinke (Sebastian Janikowski kick), 3:22 (1st)
FSU: Jeff Chaney 6 yd blocked punt return (Janikowski kick), 2:14 (1st)
VT: Andre Davis 49 yd pass from Michael Vick (Shayne Graham kick), :30 (1st)
FSU: Ron Dugans 63 yd pass from Weinke (Janikowski kick), 13:45 (2nd)
FSU: Warrick 59 yd punt return, 11:40 (2nd)
VT: Vick 3 yd run (Graham kick), 0:37 (2nd)
VT: Graham 23 yd field goal, 7:54 (3rd)
VT: Andre Kendrick 29 yd run (Vick pass failed), 5:57 (3rd)
VT: Kendrick 6 yd run (Vick pass failed), 2:13 (3rd)
FSU: Dugans 14 yd pass from Weinke (Warrick pass), 12:59 (4th)
FSU: Janikowski 32 yd field goal, 10:26 (4th)
FSU: Warrick 43 yd pass from Weinke (Janikowski kick), 7:42 (4th)
Time of Poss.
VT: M. Vick 23-97 TD, A. Kendrick 12-69 2 TD, S. Stith 11-68, And. Davis. 1-16, E. Johnson 1-12, N. Sorensen 1-7, J. Ferguson 1-5, C. Hawkins 1-4, S. Graham 1-0
FSU: J. Chaney 4-43, T. Minor 9-35, Team 3- (minus 7), C. Weinke 7 – (minus 41)
VT: Michael Vick 15-29-0, 225 yards, 1 TD
FSU: Chris Weinke 20-34-1, 329 yards, 4 TDs
VT: And. Davis 7-108 TD, C. Hawkins 2-49, A. Kendrick 2-27, E. Johnson 1-23, B. Wynn 1-7, J. Ferguson 1-6, D. Carter 1-5
FSU: P. Warrick 6-163 2 TD, R. Dugans 5-99 2 TD, M. Minnis 2-25, T. Minor 2-23, R. Morgan 2-10, J. Chaney 2-5, A. Boldin 1-4
Miller-Digby Award recipient: Peter Warrick, Florida State receiver