Photo courtesy of Florida State Athletics
NCAA FOOTBALL BOWLS PAGE
(Sports Network) - E.J. Manuel threw for 249 yards and two scores as No. 25 Florida State overcame a sluggish offensive start and a 14-0 third- quarter deficit to take down Notre Dame, 18-14, in the Champs Sports Bowl.
Rashad Greene had five receptions for 99 yards -- all in the second half -- and the go-ahead 15-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter for the Seminoles (9-4), who won seven of their last eight games to close the season.
Tommy Rees completed 16-of-27 passes for 163 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions for Notre Dame (8-5), which lost its last two games to conclude the year.
Andrew Hendrix also saw time at quarterback for the Irish, completing 3-of-8 passes for 24 yards and an interception.
Michael Floyd, who became the first Irish wide receiver to eclipse 100 receptions on a season, finished with 41 yards and a touchdown on five receptions. He exited the game in the fourth quarter with an apparent hip injury.
It was a defensive struggle in the first half as the lone score came on a 29- yard fumble return for touchdown by Notre Dame's Zeke Motta. Notre Dame, though, accounted for just 91 yards of total offense in the opening half.
With four freshman starting on Florida State's offensive line due to injuries throughout the season, the inexperience showed as the Irish's persistent pressure forced four sacks. The Seminoles managed just 104 yards of offense in the first half.
But the Seminoles' offensive line came together in the second half, allowing just one sack and giving Manuel plenty of time to throw.
It was the Irish, though, who scored on their opening possession of the second half. Notre Dame marched 62 yards in nine plays with Floyd hauling in a five- yard score on a fade in the back-left corner of the end zone. On the touchdown, Greg Reid appeared to have an interception, but Floyd went up and took it away from him as the ball bounced up in the air before finally corralling it.
Lamarcus Joyner returned the ensuing kickoff 77 yards to the Notre Dame 21. But Aaron Lynch sacked Manuel on 3rd-and-3 to force a 42-yard field goal attempt by Dustin Hopkins, which he nailed to make it a 14-3 game midway through the third quarter.
After Notre Dame's next possession stalled in Florida State territory, Manuel concluded a 10-play, 84-yard march when he found Bert Reed in the back-left corner of the end zone for an 18-yard score to pull the Seminoles within 14-9, early in the fourth quarter. The two-point conversion was unsuccessful. Greene highlighted the drive with an exceptional, diving 33-yard completion on 3rd-and-5 down the left sideline.
Nigel Bradham intercepted Hendrix three plays into Notre Dame's next drive, and Florida State took over at the Irish 18. Two plays later, Greene gave the Seminoles their first lead with a 15-yard score in the back of the end zone. Once again, though, the two-point conversion failed and Florida State held a 15-14 advantage with 13:18 left in regulation.
Green came down with another extroardinary 42-yard reception down the right sideline on Florida State's next drive. The catch led to a Hopkins 29-yard field goal and an 18-14 lead midway through the fourth quarter.
A critical facemasking penalty by Bradham on a punt put the Irish in fantastic field position at the Seminoles' 28 with under four minutes to play. But Terrence Brooks picked off Rees in the end zone on the fifth play of the drive as the Seminoles regained possession with 2:48 to play.
The Seminoles then ran out most of the clock as the Irish got the ball back at their own five with 13 ticks left. Robby Toma's 19-yard reception ended the game as he was pushed out of bounds before having a chance to lateral.
After a Seminoles three-and-out on their opening possession of the game, Floyd returned Shawn Powell's punt 41 yards to set up Notre Dame at the Florida State 35. Three first downs set up a 1st-and-goal from the four, but Rees was intercepted in the end zone by Joyner while trying to thread his pass in between two Seminole defenders.
But Florida State turned the ball over on the very next play of its ensuing series. While trying to elude tacklers, Devonta Freeman was stripped from behind by Manti Te'o after a five-yard completion. Motta scooped up the ball and returned it 29 yards for the opening score with 9:04 left in the first quarter.