With 2012 winding to a close, we're counting down the five biggest moments of the past season for Florida State. Today, we look at No. 3: Rashad Greene's touchdown catch to beat Virginia Tech.
When fans perused the schedule before the season began, it was the Thursday night showdown against Virginia Tech most often circled as the key to Florida State's fortunes. As the season developed, however, the Hokies slumped, and with each passing week, that road trip to Blacksburg, Va., in mid-November felt less and less significant.
By the time the game was finally over, however, there was no question that Florida State's win -- and more significantly, the final, brilliant drive -- was one fans would remember for a while.
Florida State went into the game with still faint hopes of a national title and was cruising toward a conference title. Virginia Tech's season was already on life support, and pride and a bowl appearance were the last vestiges of inspiration. Still, the Hokies showed plenty of fight.
FSU battled to a narrow lead at the half then took what seemed to be a commanding 20-10 lead on a 10-yard touchdown throw from EJ Manuel to Greg Dent midway through the third quarter. Then the wheels came off.
The running game never could get going, and the Seminoles finished with a historically bad minus-15 yards on the ground. The offensive line was a mess, and Manuel was sacked five times. Dent and Rashad Greene carried the load for the receiving corps.
It was disaster for Florida State. To lose again as a heavy favorite after the offense disappeared in the second half would've been a huge blow, and for all of Manuel's accomplishments during his five years in Tallahassee, leading a game-winning drive of this magnitude wasn't on his resume.
That was about to change.
The drive started badly -- a penalty, an incompletion, and a short, 6-yard pass. Manuel's third-down pass to Kenny Shaw left FSU a yard short of a first down, and given the struggles of the running game, it might as well have been a mile.
Still, Jimbo Fisher trusted his sophomore tailback, and the bruising James Wilder Jr. plowed forward -- first held up at the line of scrimmage, then fighting through for a 7-yard gain and a first down.
"I lost yards two of the four times I ran the ball, but we got that 1 yard when we needed it," Wilder said.
A 13-yard completion to Dent moved FSU into range for a long field goal try, but Greene wasn't interested in risking a kick. With 40 seconds to play, he hauled in a short slant from Manuel, dodged defenders and raced 39 yards for the touchdown.
In a season in which he earned nearly as much criticism as acclaim, this was a highlight for Manuel, who finished the day with 326 yards and three TDs, and the final drive -- which was followed by a game-securing interception by Tyler Hunter -- kept Florida State's ACC championship dreams alive.
"I've always watched great quarterbacks like Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger and Peyton Manning, all those guys have done it time and time again," Manuel said of the late-game drive. "When you're actually in those shoes making those plays, and you see a receiver make a catch and go down the field and score the winning touchdown, there is no more gratifying feeling as a quarterback. It was a huge, huge momentous event."