Dec. 31, 2010
ATLANTA (AP) – EJ Manuel’s days as a backup appear to be over.
Manuel threw a fourth-quarter touchdown passÂ to stop a South Carolina rally and lead Florida State to a 26-17 victory over the Gamecocks in the Chick-fil-A Bowl on Friday night.
Manuel took over after senior quarterback Christian Ponder left early in the second quarter with a concussion. The sophomore appears ready to assume the starting role next season.
“I hate it for Christian,” Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said. “He got dinged on the back of his head. He came off and he was kind of out of it a little bit. I hate that because of what he means to us but EJ, oh boy, I’m glad he’s on our team.
“EJ is special.”
Manuel completed 11 of 15 passes for 84 yards and a touchdown and had seven carries for 46 yards. He was 7-for-7 passing on the fourth-quarter touchdown drive.
“EJ stepped up pretty well, said Chris Thompson, who ran for 147 yards and a touchdown. “He came in and talked like something I never heard EJ talk before. He just had a bunch of intensity. You could tell he had a passion for it. He wanted to get in the end zone real bad. We just knew we had to do what we needed to do for EJ to make a play for us.”
Manuel has a knack for postseason success. He was the MVP of the Seminoles’ Gator Bowl win over West Virginia to end the 2009 season.
Dustin Hopkins kicked four field goals for the No. 23 Seminoles (10-4), who reached 10 victories for the first time since 2003. Hopkins tied his own school record for a bowl, and the four field goals also matched the Chick-fil-A Bowl record.
No. 19 South Carolina (9-5), which was seeking its first 10-win season since 1984, lost star running back Marcus Lattimore when he was hit hard on the Gamecocks’ first drive. Coach Steve Spurrier’s team also committed five turnovers.
“We had (414) yards,” Spurrier said. “It wasn’t a terrible offensive performance. It was just the turnovers that hurt us.”
“Stephen struggled early and then he made some pretty decent throws in the second half,” Spurrier said. “It looked like we had a chance to get back in the game.”
Garcia recovered to lead two long touchdown drives that trimmed Florida State’s lead to 19-17 before Manuel answered with the 7-yard scoring pass to Taiwan Easterling.
“Man, I was so happy,” Manuel said. “We weren’t moving the ball like we wanted to. We weren’t getting touchdowns. We were getting field goals instead.”
Florida State cornerback Greg Reid, whose hits caused the fumbles by Lattimore and Jeffery, deflected a fourth-down pass by Garcia with 3:23 remaining to end the Gamecocks’ last hope.
Garcia completed 19 of 34 passes for 243 yards and also scored on a nifty play in the third. On a third-down play from the Florida State 3, Garcia threw a screen pass to Ace Sanders, who threw back across the field to Garcia alone in the right side of the end zone.
The Seminoles answered with Hopkins’ fourth field goal, from 45 yards, to push the lead to nine. Hopkins also kicked four field goals in the Seminoles’ Gator Bowl win over West Virginia.
Garcia responded by leading a 79-yard drive, capped by Brian Maddox’s 7-yard TD run. Garcia helped set up the score with a 29-yard pass to Jeffery.
Reid’s hit on Lattimore knocked the freshman out of the game with an injury announced as a cut to his mouth. Spurrier said after the game that Lattimore also had “a little bit of a concussion” and was taken to a hospital for stitches.
“It hurt a bit, no question about that,” Spurrier said of Lattimore’s absence. “We would have kept trying to run a little bit more, that’s for sure.”