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'Noles' comeback destroys upset hopes

In his eight starts under center, Dan Ellis never experienced a half quite as memorable as the opening stanza against top ranked Florida State Saturday. The Exton, Pa., native watched Thomas Jones race into the record book, shattering Tiki Barber's school rushing record. He watched the Cav defense stand up to the dynamic Seminole offense and force three turnovers. Most of all, he watched his Cavs carry a surprising 10-7 lead into the locker room. Too bad he couldn't remember any of it.

Emerging from the tunnel after halftime, the Cavaliers resembled their beleaguered quarterback, who was on the receiving end of a vicious lick that left him with a concussion and no memory of what transpired during the game's first 30 minutes. The Cavs also seemed to forget what gave them the lead in the first place, while the Seminoles returned to classic Florida State form, scoring 28 unanswered second half points to lay a 35-10 drubbing on Virginia.

"The whole offense struggled in the second half," said Jones, who rushed for 164 yards on 26 carries. "We just didn't make enough plays in the second half to win the game. I don't think you can pinpoint it down to one area."

The upset was there for the taking early on though, as Seminole signal caller Chris Weinke resembled the quarterback who tossed six interceptions in a single game last year, not the one recently announced as a candidate for the Davey O'Brien Award, given annually to the nation's top field general. The 27-year-old junior was intercepted three times in the Seminoles' first four possessions by the Cavalier defense, which appeared well read in the Seminoles quick passing offense.

"They gave it to us -- three interceptions and they fumbled on the one," linebacker Byron Thweatt said. "We should capitalize off things like that, but we just didn't do it."

Two of the three picks nullified extended Seminole forays into Virginia territory, including a Johnny Shivers deflection that nestled in the hands of Thweatt at the Cav 16. The one Weinke miscue that didn't occur on the Virginia side of the field led directly to the Cavs' first and only touchdown.

Eyeing wide receiver Peter Warrick on an inside slant, Weinke delivered the ball behind his favorite target, instead finding Cav corner Dwayne Stukes, who returned the pick from the 'Nole 20 to the 11. Three plays later, Ellis handed to Jones on a draw, and the ACC's leading rusher scampered 16 yards to paydirt, concluding his scoring effort with a characteristic Jones swandive over the goalline giving Virginia an early 7-0 lead.

"Our kids just continue to come back and win in the second half," Florida State Coach Bobby Bowden said. "We were too impatient early on, and it really worked for them. Finally our skill, our depth and our execution took it over."

Ellis sustained the concussion as the half closed, and a green David Rivers, who threw all of two passes leading into the showdown with the supremely athletic Seminole defense, was thrust into a football bonfire like one he'd never seen before.

Without Ellis, the Cavs were ripe for the picking, and Florida State went to work. Virginia fortuitously hopped on a Marcus Outzen fumble at the Cav goalline, but Virginia, unable to move the chains, was forced to punt. The normally reliable Donnie Scott shanked the kick, a wobbly 26-yard effort that skipped out of bounds at the Cav 31. The ACC's second-leading punter struggled all night, netting just 36 yards-per-kick, nearly five yards below his season average.

"They had better field position than we did," Stukes said. "We were doing the things we needed to to stop them, but the boxer got off the ropes in the third quarter. Again, I think it all comes down to field position."

Florida State needed four plays to take advantage, as Weinke found wideout Marvin Minnis from 20-yards out to give Florida State its first lead at 14-10.

Moments later, Rivers telegraphed a delivery in the direction of Cav receiver Ahmad Hawkins, but monstrous 265-pound defensive tackle Corey Simon sprawled on the Scott Stadium turf to snag the offering at the Cavalier 27. Just 1:46 later, running back Travis Minor jetted in from six yards to build the advantage to 21-10. Florida State tacked on two more scores for good measure, and the Seminole defense made sure the lead stood up.

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