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Seminoles remain unbeaten with 45-7 win over Duke to earn 14th ACC crown.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (theACC.com) – Florida State took another giant step toward perfection on Saturday night.
Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year Jameis Winston threw for 330 yards and three touchdowns as the top-ranked Seminoles downed Duke 45-7 before a crowd of 67,694 in the ninth annual Dr Pepper ACC Football Championship Game at Bank of America Stadium.
The Seminoles (13-0) virtually assured themselves a spot in the BCS Championship Game on Jan. 6 at Pasadena, Calif., while setting an ACC and a school single-season record for wins. The ACC title is the 14th for Florida State (outright or shared), matching Clemson for the most in the conference’s 61-year history. The Seminoles became the first team since Virginia Tech in 2007 and 2008 to claim back-to-back ACC championship.
“This championship means a lot to us,” Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said. “This is where we want to be every year, and we have to get here to keep achieving and going to BCS games and the other games in which we want to get to.
“But the ultimate goal is to always win your conference, and I think this conference is a great conference. We have 11 bowl teams this year eligible (from the ACC), so the competition has been wonderful.”
The loss snapped an eight-game winning streak by the Blue Devils (10-3), who lost for the first time since Sept. 21. Duke, which set a school single-season record for wins this season, is still set to play in a bowl game in consecutive years for the first time in school history and will learn its destination Sunday evening.
“Obviously, (we’re) disappointed in the result of the game – not disappointed in our preparation, not disappointed in our effort,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “The inability to make first downs on offense, stay on the field … I think our defense wore down a little bit as it went on. But we'll look at it and see what we can do better.”
Winston’s three touchdown passes gave him an ACC single-season record 38, breaking the old mark of 36 set last year by Clemson’s Tajh Boyd. Winston’s total touchdown passes and passing yardage this season (3,820) are both FBS single-season freshman records.
“Our team is trying to make history; we're not trying to look at individual stats and things like that,” Winston said. “We're trying to do something so much bigger than this … Defense wins championships, and they definitely won this game for us today.”
Florida State limited the Blue Devils to 239 yards and came up with three turnovers. After holding Duke to one touchdown, the Seminoles are now allowing just 10.69 points per game. That leads the nation, and represents the fewest number of points allowed by an ACC team since North Carolina yielded 10.0 per game in 1996.
Winston wasn’t perfect. Duke freshman cornerback Breon Borders set an ACC Championship Game record by picking off the Bessemer, Ala., native twice. But the Seminoles still rolled up 569 yards total offense and led 45-0 before the Blue Devils’ Josh Snead broke up the shutout bid on a 5-yard touchdown run with 1:01 remaining in the game.
“I loved the way we competed in the game,” Fisher said. “I thought we played very hard. I thought we made mistakes, but sometimes that happens in championship games, and we had to overcome. We kept going to the next play and the adversity we had we dealt with and moved on, and we need to play well and we made the plays we needed to make to win the game.”
Winston tied the ACC Championship Game record for touchdown responsibility with four while registering the seventh 300-yard passing game of the season.
The Blue Devils battled the favored Seminoles gamely early on, particularly through an opening quarter that ended in a scoreless deadlock for the first time in ACC Championship Game history. Duke became the first team in 15 games – since Florida in the 2012 regular-season finale – to hold FSU scoreless in the opening period. Duke was buoyed early by a big play from cornerback Ross Cockrell, who forced FSU running back Devonta Freeman to fumble at the end of a 22-yard run, and safety Jeremy Cash recovered at the Blue Devils’ 4-yard line.
But the Seminoles, who entered the game second nationally in scoring at 53.7 points per game, scored 17 unanswered points in the second quarter to take control.
“We came out and played physical, and actually played physical on both sides of the ball,” Cutcliffe said. “They are a very physical team. We knew we had to try to minimally match it, and for a while we took the edge. We just couldn't take advantage of the opportunity.”
Winston connected with wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin on a 14-yard scoring strike with 12:36 remaining in the opening half. Then, after an interception by cornerback Lamarcus Joyner killed a Blue Devil drive, the Seminoles marched 73 yards in 11 plays to go up 14-0, with Karlos Williams running the final 12 yards for the touchdown.
Redshirt freshman kicker Roberto Aguayo’s 45-yard field goal in the fading second of the second quarter pushed Florida State’s lead to 17-0 at the break. The Lou Groza Award finalist finished the game with 146 points for the season, breaking the ACC and FSU single-season scoring mark of 140 previously held by the Seminoles’ Dustin Hopkins.
Winston finished the opening half 12-of-21 for 171 yards with the touchdown and one interception. The Seminoles had 268 total yards in the first half while limiting Duke to 94.
Florida State broke the game open with three unanswered touchdowns in the third quarter. Winston had hand in all three scores, with touchdown passes of 11 and 54 yards to Kenny Shaw and Benjamin, and an exciting 17-yard scoring run in which he hurdled Duke cornerback Byron Fields at the goal line for a 38-0 FSU lead.
Freeman, who led all rushers with 91 yards, capped the Seminoles’ scoring on a 7-yard touchdown run with 7:25 remaining in the game. Florida State has won each of its last 14 games (dating back to last January’s Orange Bowl) by at least 14 points.
Of note: If the Seminoles receive a spot in the BCS Championship, as expected, it will mark their fourth appearance … FSU is 1-2 all-time in BCS Championships, with the win coming by a 46-29 score over Virginia Tech in the 1999 National Championship Game … Florida State is headed to a BCS Bowl for the eighth time … The Seminoles defeated Northern Illinois, 31-10, in last year’s Orange Bowl … FSU is 3-1 all-time in the ACC Championship Game, which was first played in 2005 … FSU has won 15 straight games overall, a streak that began with last year’s 21-15 win over Georgia Tech in the Dr Pepper ACC Football Championship Game … The Blue Devils’ Jamison Crowder now has 96 receptions for the season, just two shy of the ACC record of 98 set by Wake Forest’s Kenneth Moore in 1998 … Crowder’s 1,197 receiving yards are a school record, breaking the previous mark of 1,197 set by Clarkston Hines in 1989 … Duke’s Borders’ four interceptions this season are a school freshman record.