- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 29, 2006

The last thing Florida State coach Bobby Bowden told his sophomore quarterback before he took the field for the final drive of his first career start was not to take a sack.

Xavier Lee then engineered a long drive to put the Seminoles in position to tie or take the lead late in the fourth quarter, but when he was corralled from behind by Maryland defensive end Jeremy Navarre, he tried to get rid of the ball in order to heed his coach’s last wishes.

The falling-down heave to nowhere was ruled intentional grounding and pushed Florida State back 13 yards to the Maryland 29. Two plays later, kicker Gary Cismesia’s 46-yard field goal was blocked by Navarre, and the Terrapins prevailed 27-24 at Byrd Stadium.

“I just didn’t want to take a loss,” Lee said. “I was falling down, and I just tried to get rid of it as soon as possible. That is something I’ve got to work on, something to learn.”

On a night littered with errors, it was a fitting demise for the suddenly suspect Seminoles. Florida State prolonged the Terps’ first touchdown drive with a pass interference penalty on third down, killed drives with presnap penalties and gave away field position on two long Maryland punt returns.

The Seminoles had five false starts and one illegal formation penalty among its 13 penalties for 100 yards. Part of the presnap communication problems may have been related to the noise from the Byrd Stadium crowd of 50,517 and the howling winds.

Another reason could have been the first-team offense’s lack of familiarity with Lee. The sophomore from Daytona Beach, Fla., wasn’t named the starter until after team doctors ruled Drew Weatherford out during pregame warmups because of ankle tendinitis.

“That just killed drives,” Lee said. “The [first-teamers] are used to going with Drew, and we have somewhat of a different cadence, and it might have thrown things a bit off. But with more practice we can get that right.”

Punting also was a consistent problem for the Seminoles.

Graham Gano averaged 32 yards a punt on four attempts, two of which were returned by Maryland wideout Danny Oquendo for 35 and 45 yards, respectively.

Gano’s troubles with the wind and the Seminoles’ problems containing Oquendo prompted Bowden to go for it on fourth-and-1 from midfield in the third quarter. Florida State fullback Joe Surratt was stuffed behind the line of scrimmage and then took off his helmet in frustration, drawing a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and setting the Terps up with prime field position.

“They kept running [the punts] back,” Bowden said. “We wouldn’t normally go for that [fourth-and-1]. Not at that time. But if we punted it, it might have only gone 20 yards, so we decided to go for it.”

Lee nearly made the game’s biggest mistake seven plays before the intentional grounding. He tried to dump a pass off to Lorenzo Booker in the middle of the field but didn’t see Maryland defensive tackle Conrad Bolston and hit the big lineman in the chest. Bolston dropped the ball and gave the Seminoles new life.

All of the mistakes added up to another long night for Bowden’s Seminoles, who maintained a firm grasp on last place in the ACC’s Atlantic Division.

“It is naturally disappointing because we spent so many years not in this category,” Bowden said. “We have very few seniors, and we know our future is good, but we’d like it to be now.”

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