TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Sometimes, that's just the way it goes.
With the potential to take the driver's seat in the Atlantic Division on the line, the No. 24 Florida State football team lost on a heartbreaking missed field goal in the final seconds to North Carolina Saturday at home, 37-35.
Because of an NC State loss earlier in the day, the Seminoles (6-3, 4-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) had the opportunity to regain their division lead against the Tar Heels (6-3, 3-2).
And with seven seconds left to play, it appeared as if that's what would happen. But after Greg Reid's stellar 50-yard return got FSU into UNC territory with under 50 seconds to play, sophomore kicker Dustin Hopkins' potential game-winning 40-yard field goal missed wide to the outside.
For the game, FSU's Christian Ponder completed 24 of his 34 pass attempts for 264 yards and three touchdowns. Sophomore wide receiver Willie Haulstead had a breakout game with a career-high 10 catches for 154 yards and one touchdown.
Wide receivers Taiwan Easterling and Rodney Smith also had a touchdown catch apiece.
Starting fullback Lonnie Pryor posted two one-yard touchdowns. Sophomore running back had 49 yards rushing.
Defensively, junior linebacker Nigel Bradham led the way with 10 tackles while Markus White and Mister Alexander both had six takedowns. Sophomore defensive end Brandon Jenkins had two sacks.
North Carolina quarterback T.J. Yates finished the game with 439 yards and three touchdowns. Dwight Jones grabbed eight passes for 233 yards and one score for UNC.
North Carolina came out on fire to start the game despite the cool temperatures in Tallahassee. The Tar Heels needed just four plays and 60 yards to post a touchdown on the game's first possession.
But it didn't take the Seminoles much longer to answer. The Seminoles opened the game with a no-huddle, hurry-up style of offense that kept UNC on its - pardon the pun - heels. FSU worked steadily down the field and capped off a nine-play, 54-yard drive with a five-yard Haulstead touchdown grab to tie it up at 7-7.
The knotted score wouldn't stick, though; North Carolina went for the homerun and connected a few minutes later when Jones snagged a 67-yard scoring pass.
Just like Carolina opened the first quarter with a quick score, the Seminoles did the same to kick off the second period.
FSU marched 48 yards in just two plays and Smith secured a 27-yard pass from Ponder down the right sideline to make it a 14-14 ballgame.
Another steady drive gave the 'Noles their first lead of the game at 21-14 and Ponder a hat trick at the 10:13 mark of the second quarter. FSU's offensive leader found Easterling on a receiver screen pass for a seven-yard scoring play.
On the drive, FSU was set up in scoring position thanks to a career-long 41-yard grab by Haulstead.
The back-and-forth first-half offensive explosion by both squads then continued on the Tar Heels' ensuing drive. UNC retied the score on a seven-play 75-yard drive touchdown with 6:56 to play in opening half.
Not to be outdone, the Seminoles then utilized a three-minute drive that resulted in a five-yard scoring plunge by Pryor to regain the lead at 28-21 before the second quarter ended.
The scoring slowed from the frenetic first-half pace after both squads emerged from the locker room to start the third quarter - particularly for Florida State.
North Carolina registered a field goal and touchdown to recapture the lead, 31-28, with just over five minutes to play in the third period. On the flip side, FSU couldn't get into scoring position in two separate possessions in the same time frame.
The Tar Heels then added another field goal early in the fourth quarter to extend their lead to 34-28.
And that's when the Seminoles caught a break.
After Carolina punter C.J. Feagles was penalized for an illegal kick in which he soccer-booted the football after a bad snap, FSU was awarded the football on the one yard-line. That was all Pryor needed to dive over the goal line to give the Seminoles a 35-34 advantage with just 5:49 left to play.
The quick change in momentum didn't deter the Tar Heels as they then prodded down field and scored on a 22-yard field goal to retake the lead, 37-35, with 55 seconds left.
Reid's monster kick return then helped set up what would have been Hopkins' game-winner.
Florida State returns to Doak Campbell Stadium on Nov. 13 for a primetime 8 p.m. showdown with Clemson.
For further information, visit: www.seminoles.com