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Nov. 27, 2010
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -Everything went perfectly for Florida State on Saturday.
The 22nd-ranked Seminoles not only put the brakes on a six-year losing streak against archrival Florida with a 31-7 victory, they also slipped into next week's Atlantic Coast Conference championship game with a big boost from Maryland.
The Terrapins beat North Carolina State 38-31 to keep the Wolfpack from clinching the division.
Florida State players were already celebrating what turned out to be a relatively easy win over the Gators and the locker room got even noisier when the verdict came in from College Park, Md.
Christian Ponder threw for 221 yards and three touchdowns in his final game at home and Jimbo Fisher finished with a 9-3 regular season record in his first season as a head coach.
Ponder connected with Rodney Smith (39 yards), Taiwan Easterling (15) and Willie Haulstead (29) on TD passes.
The Seminoles (6-2 ACC) put the game away with a 21-point second quarter, getting three touchdowns in just over nine minutes to take a 24-7 halftime lead.
Florida (7-5, 4-4 Southeastern Conference) capped its worst regular season under Urban Meyer with its first loss to FSU since Meyer took over in Gainesville in 2005.
Meyer's dominance against Florida State was one of the major reasons Bobby Bowden was forced out last season as coach and Fisher promoted from offensive coordinator/coach-in-waiting.
The Gators were awful Saturday, committing four turnovers and scoring only on their opening drive. John Brantley's 21-yard touchdown to Robert Clark was set up by Anre DuBose's 62-yard kickoff return.
Florida had won the last three in the series by an average of 30 points. The Seminoles' 24-point winning margin was its largest over Florida since a 52-17 victory in 1988.
Florida State's 9-3 finish is its best since 2003, the last time the Seminoles beat the Gators.
But things had mostly gone downhill since.
Fisher, 45, was elevated to the head coach two days after last year's 37-10 loss in Gainesville, sending the 80-year-old Bowden into retirement at least a year before he wanted.
And while there was no Bowden on Florida State's sideline Saturday, there was also no Tim Tebow for Florida. Tebow had put up prolific performances against Florida State but his successors - all three of them - were ineffective with Brantley managing to throw for 52 of Florida's paltry 64 passing yards.
Florida hadn't lost five games in a season since 2004, former coach Ron Zook's last at the school and it was the first time in 10 years as a head coach that Urban Meyer has seen one of his teams lose five times. It was also the second worst beating a Florida team has suffered under Meyer, surpassed only by a 31-6 loss to Alabama earlier this year.
Although the game was nearly even statistically, Florida was unable to overcome its mistakes and couldn't get its offense untracked.
The Gators drove deep into Seminoles territory just before half, but the drive ended with 55 seconds left when Florida State's Mike Harris cut in front of the intended receiver for an interception at the 7.
Nothing worked for the Gators, who lost three fumbles in the first half and were stopped short on a fake punt.
Meyer gambled on fourth-and-5 from his own 36 early in the second quarter when Chas Henry was tackled a yard short of a first down.
Ponder lofted a 39-yard touchdown pass to Smith on the next play to give Florida State a 17-7 lead, just 81 seconds after Lonnie Pryor's 9-yard touchdown run gave the Seminoles the lead at 10-7. Dustin Hopkins' 38-yard field goal gave Florida State an early 3-0 lead.