TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- There were ghosts all over Doak Campbell Stadium yesterday, chasing the Florida State Seminoles nearly into exhaustion, reminding the nation's top-ranked college football team of its past failures against rival Miami.
They wouldn't go away after the Seminoles scored three times in the first 17 minutes to build a 14-point lead over the third-ranked Hurricanes. They wouldn't leave, despite Miami's inability to get any closer than 11 points in the second half.
They kept sneaking into quarterback Charlie Ward's huddle and into coach Bobby Bowden's head, telling the Seminoles that something was going to happen to keep their string of frustration going against the Hurricanes. Something bad, of course.
"We've been beaten by Miami so many times in the last quarter, it's hard to get it out your mind," said Bowden, whose Seminoles had lost six times in the past decade after taking a lead on Miami into the fourth quarter. "I didn't feel comfortable until Devin picked it off."
Those ghosts finally disappeared when Devin Bush -- a sophomore strong safety from Miami, of all places -- intercepted Frank Costa and raced 40 yards into the end zone with 4:59 remaining. It capped a 28-10 victory for the Seminoles and ended the misery for most in the record crowd of 77,813.
While their fans roared in celebration, Florida State players and coaches seemed to breathe a collective sigh of relief. That is what happens when you lose three straight years to Miami -- after missing last-minute field-goal attempts the past two -- and seven of the past eight.
"It takes a lot of burden off what went on the last two years," said Ward, who kept his Heisman Trophy bid going strong by completing 21 of 31 passes for 256 yards and one touchdown, and rushing for another. "We didn't want it to come down to a field goal."
L Said Bowden, "It's a heck of a monkey to get off your back."
It came off because Florida State (6-0) made enough big plays early. A 69-yard run by tailback Sean Jackson on the Seminoles' third play from scrimmage, a 72-yard pass from Ward to wide receiver Matt Frier on their third possession and a 2-yard score by Ward that was set up by one of Bowden's trademark trick plays gave Florida State a 21-7 lead with a little less than 14 minutes left in the second quarter.
It came off because Miami (4-1) couldn't convert on the few chances the Seminoles doled out. Except for a 6-yard touchdown pass from Costa to tailback Donnell Bennett that capped a nine-play, 80-yard drive and tied the score 7-7 with 4:36 to go in the first quarter, the Hurricanes' offense continually stalled. Florida State's two turnovers -- both on fumbles, one recovered at the Florida State 38 late in the first half -- ended with Miami punting.
"When we recovered that fumble, that was our big chance," said Costa, who was 21 of 43 for 193 yards, one touchdown and the game-ending interception. "But they stepped up on defense and we didn't step up on offense. They made us pay for it."
Still, Miami never went away, as the Seminoles, who steamrollered through their early-season schedule with 45 points game, seemed to run out of steam. Several players, including linebacker Derrick Brooks, cramped badly in the sauna-like conditions. And then there were those darn ghosts.
But these Hurricanes couldn't do what their predecessors had done. After cutting Florida State's lead to 21-10 on a 23-yard field goal by Dane Prewitt with 14:07 to go in the game, the Seminoles appeared to be self-destructing again. Penalties -- 11 in all, including three straight for having six men on the offensive line -- stopped Florida State throughout the afternoon.
"Offensively, we had our chances," said Miami coach Dennis Erickson, who lost to Bowden and Florida State for the first time in his four years with the Hurricanes. "But we were unable to take advantage. You have to against this team. They have the weapons, and No. 28 certainly is a player. I have to give their defense credit. They were able to put points on the board."
If a star emerged yesterday, it was No. 28, freshman tailback Warrick Dunn. While Jackson scored the longest touchdown of his career and led the Seminoles with 98 yards on 10 carries, Dunn's six carries for 67 yards were even more stunning, and two of his six carries were devastating for the Hurricanes.
Both came on third down: a 27-yard run on third-and-seven from the Florida State 43 that set up Ward's touchdown run, a play that began with Dunn taking the snap from center out of Florida State's shotgun formation. The other came on third-and-10 from the Florida State 46 with a little under nine minutes left, an 11-yard gain in which Dunn, 5 feet 9, 170 pounds, broke three tackles and enabled the Seminoles to hold onto the ball for a couple more minutes.
"He made a great run both times," Ward said.
Those kind of plays -- and Bush's late interception -- helped Florida State keep its hopes alive of winning that elusive national championship. But the Seminoles still have to play at Notre Dame and at Florida later in the season, so Bowden warned, as only he can, "If we put all our eggs in this basket, we're barking up the wrong tree."
A tree filled with ghosts, no doubt.
Miami 7 0 0 3 -- 10
Florida State 14 7 0 7 -- 28