COLLEGE PARK -- When Walt Williams ran under a 50-yard touchdown pass that cut Florida State's lead to eight points early in the second half, the Seminoles finally realized that they had best stop thinking ahead to Notre Dame and instead concentrate on Maryland.
"When they [the Terrapins] came out in the second half and scored that touchdown, that was a wake-up call," said linebacker Derrick Brooks, one of the brightest lights in Florida State's galaxy of stars. "We might have taken them a little bit lightly."
Florida State scored the game's last three touchdowns to put away a 49-20 victory over the Terps at Byrd Stadium, preserving the Seminoles' No. 1 ranking and this month's Game of the Century. Despite its worst defensive performance of the season and the absence of quarterback Charlie Ward, Florida State (9-0) prospered and can now fully prepare for Saturday's showdown at No. 2 Notre Dame.
The Seminoles, who came in as 49-point favorites among bookmakers who would still take bets on the game, clinched their second straight Atlantic Coast Conference championship and dropped Maryland (1-8) into the league's cellar. It's indicative of the gulf in talent between the teams that Maryland considered a four-touchdown spread to be a moral victory.
"After the kind of season we've had and the way we've struggled, it's a good feeling to hold our own against the best team in the nation," said sophomore quarterback Scott Milanovich. "To be in the game shows something about the character of this team."
Maryland's offense sputtered for most of October, but a patchwork lineup produced 453 yards and three touchdowns against a Florida State defense that had allowed just 34 points total and an average of 240.4 yards in its first eight games.
Several first-year players stepped up for the Terps. Redshirt freshman Kevin Foley alternated with the banged-up Milanovich, and junior-college transfer Allen Williams had 118 yards rushing behind a bruised offensive line that did not give up a sack. Two-thirds of Maryland's 21 receptions went to freshmen.
To Maryland's regret, however, youth also was served for Florida State. With Ward resting his bruised ribs, sophomore Danny Kanell got his first college start and completed 28 of 38 passes for 341 yards and five touchdowns against a Terps unit that started six players in their first Division I-A season.
Florida State punted the first time it had the ball, but its other eight possessions resulted in seven touchdowns and a missed 29-yard field-goal try by freshman Scott Bentley. The Seminoles battered the Terps for an ACC record 858 yards in last year's 69-21 whipping in Tallahassee, Fla., and yesterday got 526 against a defense that came in giving up 555 yards per game.
"Right now, Maryland doesn't have enough defensive players with experience," Florida State coach Bobby Bowden said. "They're playing with more inexperienced defensive players than ever seen."
Three days before the game, Bowden struggled to remember that his team was facing Maryland. Players on both sides admitted that the Seminoles seemed disinterested at times, and Florida State, up 21-13 at the half, thought it could begin to relax after Kanell's 15-yard touchdown pass to Sean Jackson made it 28-13 on the fifth play of the second half.
The Terps weren't done, however.
On second down following the kickoff, redshirt freshman Walt Williams beat cornerback Corey Sawyer on a bomb from Milanovich for a 50-yard score, making it 28-20.
From then on, it was all Florida State. On their last three possessions, the Seminoles drove 72, 56 and 94 yards for touchdowns, finishing with a 33-yard pass from Kanell to Kevin ++ Knox, a 6-yard reverse by sophomore Tamarick Vanover and a 19-yard run by Jackson.
The Seminoles also ran wild in the first half, but for 18 minutes they traded touchdowns with the Terps, who had been shut out in two of their previous three games.
Maryland was down 14-0 two minutes into the second quarter and worrying about a blowout when Foley replaced Milanovich, who suffered a bruised left shoulder and bone chips in two fingers on his throwing (right) hand at Clemson last week.
On second down from the Terps' 7-yard line, true freshman Mancel Johnson got open for a pass that covered 68 yards. Foley sneaked in from the 1 seven plays later.
Florida State needed just seven plays to go 63 yards and restore the lead to two touchdowns, but the Terps came back behind Allen Williams, who began the year in the secondary. He carried six times for 42 yards on a 10-play, 76-yard drive that ended with Milanovich throwing 10 yards to Geroy Simon.
It was Milanovich's 19th touchdown pass of the season, breaking Boomer Esiason's school record, and No. 20 was the post pattern to Walt Williams in the third quarter.
The Terps could have scored more, but their lack of a field-goal kicker stopped two other drives. On their second possession, they drove 58 yards to the Seminoles' 6 before shifting into reverse, and in the fourth quarter Maryland followed Foley to the 5 before stalling.
Despite the finish, Maryland coach Mark Duffner saw an improvement from a team that beat Duke but otherwise in October was outscored 137-7 by Penn State, Georgia Tech and Clemson.
"No question, we felt the momentum was on our side at halftime," Duffner said. "We felt confident down to the last second that we could compete against Florida State."