Dec. 27, 2006
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Although Bobby Bowden has led Florida State to much bigger victories in far grander bowls, a winning season is always sweet - even when it ends with Bowden raising the Emerald Bowl trophy in a chilly baseball park 2,600 miles from Tallahassee.
Lorenzo Booker ran for 91 yards, caught five passes for 117 more and scored two touchdowns, leading the Seminoles to a 44-27 victory over UCLA on Wednesday night to put a happy ending on Bowden's 30th straight winning season.
A 3-5 record in ACC play, including four losses in six games to close the regular season, forced Florida State to finish an ignominious year with the longest road trip in school history. The Seminoles have played in 25 straight bowl games, but the last 15 were played in January, with considerably bigger stakes and payouts.
Don't tell that to Booker, a California native who got a chance to impress 130 friends and family members in the stands. This minor bowl was a major win.
"We have a 30-year streak, and we're proud of our history," said Drew Weatherford, who overcame a shaky start to pass for 325 yards, 126 in the fourth quarter. "We had to keep it going, and it gives us a head start and a boost for next season."
Florida State's fourth quarter was dynamite. Greg Carr caught a go-ahead, 30-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-9, and Booker capped his final college game with a key third-down catch and a 3-yard TD run with 6:17 left.
Tony Carter's 86-yard interception return for another score 37 seconds later was the finishing touch in Bowden's 20th bowl victory.
"When you look at the score the next day, I'm sure people are going to say, 'Wow, what happened?"' UCLA coach Karl Dorrell said. "But it was a lot different game than the score indicated. We played three pretty good quarters, so from an effort standpoint, I don't have any questions we're heading in the right direction."
Yet the Seminoles made plays against the Bruins on offense, defense and special teams in the second half. Lawrence Timmons returned a blocked punt 25 yards for a score in the third quarter, and Carter's return was just one of several big stops.
Most in the sellout crowd of 40,331 fans cheered UCLA, but Florida State had a surprisingly solid rooting section for a game on the opposite coast.
Florida State took a 23-20 lead in the third quarter when Dekoda Watson blocked a punt and Timmons returned it for a score, but UCLA went back ahead on Chane Moline's 8-yard TD run moments later.
When a Florida State drive stalled early in the fourth quarter with the Seminoles trailing by four, Bowden and his son proved they had nothing to lose by boldly going for it on fourth and long. Carr easily made his TD catch a step from the end zone when his defender fell down.
Brandon Breazell caught a 78-yard TD pass and Junior Taylor had a scoring catch in the first half for the Bruins, who finished a mediocre regular season playing some of their best football in Dorrell's four seasons.
The Bruins led 20-13 at halftime, and a game expected to be dominated by defense featured 501 total yards in the first half alone.
"We have to use this to drive ourselves to getting better," UCLA linebacker Christian Taylor said. "We need to work even harder in the offseason, because we know we have some weaknesses. Someone had to lose and it's disappointing it was us."