Field Goal Curse Kicks Dirt in Florida State's Eyes
There in the middle of the field at Doak Campbell Stadium were two kickers from opposing teams, North Carolina and Florida State, making small talk and wishing each other good luck. As fate would have it -- FSU fans are well aware of the program's cursed legacy with missed field goals -- one kicker had good luck, the other did not.
Take a guess which kicker did not.
Yep, you guessed it.
UNC ended nearly three decades of futility here against FSU with Saturday's dramatic 37-35 victory in Atlantic Coast Conference play.
Casey Barth connected on a 22-yard field goal with under a minute to play, and the Tar Heels then held their collective breath as FSU's Dustin Hopkins missed a 40-yard field goal wide right with just seven seconds left on the clock. Hopkins also missed a 42-yard attempt with 7:51 left.
A stunned crowd of 70,157 stood in disbelief as the Tar Heels won their first game at Doak Campbell Stadium since the series started in 1983, and just their second overall in the series. UNC also snapped its seven-game losing streak here since a tie in 1986.
The entertaining, back-and-forth game came down to a last-second kick.
FSU does not do last-second kicks well.
Actually, with a game hinging on the outcome of a field goal in the closing seconds, the Seminoles have not made one since Scott Bentley's foot lifted the Seminoles to a national title in the Jan. 1, 1994, Orange Bowl. By best estimate, FSU has missed at least seven potentially game-winning field goals over the years.
Sure, there have been late field goals that have spelled the difference in games for FSU, but the Seminoles can't seem to shake their demons in the critical final seconds.
Wide Right. Again.
"I felt for him. I've been there and it's the worst feeling in the world," said Barth, who also made field goals of 46 and 31 yards and converted four extra points to push his consecutive made streak to 63.
"I know he's a really good kicker, too. We talked before the game. I wish I could have talked to him after the game, but I wish the best for him. I was so excited that we won, how can you not be? That was such a great game. It was just awesome how well we played as a team. I just knew I had to kick it (winning field goal) through. That's all I had to do."
That's all FSU and Hopkins had to do, too.
Just like Gerry Thomas, Matt Munyon, Dan Mowrey, Gary Cismesia and Xavier Beitia years and years ago.
"I was really thankful for the opportunity the guys put me in and I walked out there and was feeling pretty good," said Hopkins, who, entering the game, had converted a field goal in 10 consecutive games, the second-longest active streak in the nation. Hopkins was also named a semifinalist this week for the Groza Award, which goes to the nation's best place kicker.
"The snap came, it was off the snap and Shawn (Powell, holder) held it well," Hopkins went on. "Right when it came off my foot I realized that I left my hips open. Of course, I am disappointed but I have to bounce back. We all have to bounce back from the loss and come back next week and beat a really good Clemson team."
FSU was once again was in position to regain an inside track for the Atlantic Division berth in the ACC's title game after Maryland and N.C. State both lost earlier in the day. But the Seminoles did not have an answer for UNC quarterback T.J. Yates, who threw for a school-record 439 yards and three touchdowns.
Barth added three field goals and a gritty UNC defense limited the Seminoles to one second-half score following a botched snap on a punt attempt.
UNC became the league's sixth bowl eligible team despite its struggles with player suspensions from the ongoing academic and agent-related scandals. The Tar Heels are bowl eligible for their third consecutive season, their longest run since going to eight straight bowls from 1991 through 1998.
The entertaining game, played in sunny but chilly weather, featured 847 total yards (703 passing), three ties and five lead changes. It was the first between the pair here since 2004 due to the scheduling gap created when the ACC expanded seven years ago. UNC won't visit the Florida Panhandle again until 2015.
"It's just another add-on to a crazy season for us," Yates said.
"We talked about it (Friday) in our team meeting that we wanted to make this memorable. A lot of guys are not coming back to Florida State for a long time, and we wanted to make it memorable -- and I thought we did a good job of that. This up-and-down this season, it's a huge test, all the guys believing and staying focused. We've had more adversity than anyone could imagine."
FSU and its current generation of fans can only imagine a winning kick sailing through the uprights.
Moments later after Barth's field goal, he stood on the sidelines and watched his counterpart line up for the game-winning field goal. Greg Reid's 50-yard kickoff return put the Seminoles in ideal position. Hopkins had made 10-of-12 field goals this season, including a carer-long 52 yarder. The sophomore had not missed two field goals in a game in 39 career attempts.
The Seminoles need the entire rabbit.
"He (Hokpins) said he wanted it right there toward the middle of the field, so we goal post right it, set it in the middle and unfortunately he missed it," said FSU coach Jimbo Fisher, who suffered his first defeat at home since replacing the longtime Seminoles leader Bobby Bowden earlier this year. And it was the second straight game FSU let a last-minute opportunity for a win slip away following Christian Ponder's fumble on a play-action pass at N.C. State 10 days ago.
"He's a great kicker, he's a great kid and he'll be back. I hate it for him, I hate it for us, but that's ball."