Seminoles escape Samford scare, 36-26, to get first win of Taggart's tenure

By: Fletcher Keel | WCTV Eyewitness Sports
September 9, 2018

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) — The Florida State Seminoles didn't hold a lead against the Samford Bulldogs until 4:03 remained in regulation and a Lavonte Taylor pick six sealed the deal as the Noles garnered their first win under new head coach Willie Taggart, 36-26, in front of 72,239 fans at Doak Campbell Stadium.

"It's a good win for the Noles," said Taggart following the game. "I’m excited our guys found a way to win the ball game. It wasn’t pretty, but it was good to see our guys come back and get the win after the way they started. It was a great team victory.”

The Noles' final offensive scoring drive, which was capped off by a Deondre Francois touchdown pass to Tre' McKitty, saw the Noles drive 11 plays in 3:49 of game clock, covering 82 yards to give FSU their first lead of the season.

Taylor put the exclamation point on the night after intercepting Samford quarterback Delvin Hodges, ending a nice drive put together by the Bulldogs that saw them drive 34 yards in five quick plays.

FSU outscored Samford 15-3 in the final 15 minutes.

The Bulldogs opened the game with touchdown drives in their first two offensive series. Hodges hit wide receiver Kelvin McKnight deep on the Bulldogs’ first play from scrimmage for a 54-yard touchdown to give Samford an early 6-0 lead.

After forcing a three-and-out on their next defensive series, Samford went 75 yards in seven plays, helped by some Seminole penalties on what would have been big tackles for loss (a facemask which would have forced a long third down) or a timely batted ball away in the red zone (a pass interference at the goal line) before Roland Adams punched the ball in from two yards out, giving Samford a 13-0 lead.

Florida State scored their first touchdown of the season with 4:03 left in the opening stanza thanks in part to George Campbell, who Francois turned to on consecutive plays for pick ups of 10 and 26 yards, respectively, to set up a 27-yard touchdown pass to Tamorrion Terry, who Francois hit in stride, to bring the Noles within 13-7.

After a Samford field goal on the ensuing possession, the Noles opened the second quarter with a Francois rushing touchdown on a read-option keeper, in which he ran right down the heart of the field untouched.

On the next drive, Hodges had a pass get tipped just passed the line of scrimmage and into the hands of A.J. Westbrook, but the Noles were unable to put points on the board following the first turnover of the game.

After punting the ball away, Samford went to work, driving 87 yards in 90 seconds to score on the second Hodges/McKnight touchdown connection of the game to extend the Bulldogs’ lead to 23-14.

FSU forced a fumble late in the second quarter and Francois fired a laser to Terry at the front of the end zone for a touchdown, but Francois took a big hit as he delivered the throw and was slow to get up after the play. The Seminoles didn't take possession again in the half, but Francois reentered the game for the Noles first offensive series of the third quarter.

Hodges finished the night completing 39 of his 60 attempted passes for 475 yards and two touchdowns, along with four interceptions. On the night, the FSU defense forced five turnovers, turning them into 14 points.

Two Bulldog receivers finished with over 100 yards receiving; McKnight finished with 215 receiving hards on 14 catches and two touchdowns, while Andrew Harris caught five balls for 112 yards.

Francois numbers were impressive as well, completing 31 of 46 passes for 320 yards and three receiving touchdowns (two to Terry) while also rushing five times for 15 yards and a touchdown.

"Francois was good on getting the ball to his teammates. He was good on reading his assignments. These reps that he’s getting in the games are so valuable," Taggart said on the performance of his signal caller.

The run game struggled to open up for Florida State, despite them finishing with 134 yards, led by 76 from Cam Akers (14 carries) and 44 from Jacques Patrick (13 touches).

In total, the Bulldogs out gained the Seminoles, 525-454. The NOles committed nine penalties for 69 yards.

"I think our defense was going up against a different offense than what we faced on Monday night [against Virginia Tech]. We knew that was going to happen. I thought early on we were playing them too soft. Their quarterback did a good job of getting them out of jams. Their guys made plays and we didn’t,” said Taggart.

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