The stadium fell into stunned silence, which became a symbolic reaction for a season that has faded to black for the Seminoles (7-4, 5-3).
Just when it seemed they were a field goal away from sealing a win, the Seminoles failed to get into position on their second-to-last drive and then failed to seize the opportunity when officials twice ruled in their favor on calls during their final, frantic possession. After an ill-advised sideline pass with no timeouts and four seconds left was ruled incomplete -- but only following a five-minute video review by ACC officials -- placekicker Dustin Hopkins rekindled nightmares of missed kicks by FSU when his 42-yarder curved outside the left upright.
The miss lifted Virginia to an improbable 14-13 win and sealed a failed season for the Seminoles, who now must travel to equally downtrodden Florida with hopes of gaining something in a battle of mutual misery.
"Any loss is tough, and we'll find out what we're made of," coach Jimbo Fisher said. "We'll find out if we have any grit, and we'll come back. And if we can't get up to go play Florida, then there's something wrong."
The loss has enraged FSU's fan base to the point that Fisher's honeymoon and grace period is over with Seminole Nation. The fans know FSU does not have a win against a team with a winning record and has three losses to mediocre teams: Clemson, Wake Forest and Virginia. This was not supposed to happen with a team ranked No. 5 to start the year.
"It starts with me. It starts at the top," said Fisher, referring to repeated mistakes with penalties, poor execution and inability to run the ball.
Fisher's frustration came through when asked about a game that featured more bizarre officiating from an ACC crew. In the first half, the Seminoles had several big plays nullified by penalties and freshman receiver Rashad Greene tackled out of bounds by a blatant horse-collar tackle, but no flag was thrown. It prompted loud reaction from the crowd when the video replay was shown and further continued a season of strange calls that have not gone in FSU's favor.
Then, the 'Noles caught a break on the game's final play when receiver Bert Reed's sideline catch was later ruled incomplete -- reviews showed the ball was not controlled when he hit the ground and it popped free. But the agonizing wait that ensued as ACC officials reviewed and further reviewed the play led to Hopkins standing on the field forever.
"Every game, there's 88 delays," Fisher said. "I mean, you can't play the game without a rhythm, and it's getting utterly ridiculous. It really is. It's getting ridiculous, and it needs to get fixed somehow. But that's not why we messed up the game, and I'm not blaming it on that."
Hopkins, one of the nation's top kickers, hit the ball well, but it was a tough angle from the right hash and it hooked too much at the end. It was the second time he missed a game-deciding kick. A year ago, it happened in a loss to North Carolina. A week later, he kicked a 55-yarder to break a tie game and beat Clemson.
"There's nothing I could go back and tell myself, 'I wish I would have done this different,'" said Hopkins, showing remarkable poise in post-game interviews. "The ball came off my foot pretty good. It started down the middle, and then it started feeling... I just said, 'Lord, this isn't supposed to go in tonight.'"
This has been a season that just has not gone like it was supposed to for FSU.
NOTES AND QUOTES
With Virginia winning in Doak Campbell Stadium, it leaves only Maryland and Duke as the ACC teams that have never won in Tallahassee. Of course, what makes this stand out even more is that FSU did not lose an ACC home game until 10 years into its membership (2001), then did not lose to another ACC team aside from NC State until 2006. So all of these other ACC home losses have been within the last five years. ...
Tight end Ja'Baris Little finished with a good personal memory on Senior Day. He was one of FSU's 16 seniors, which includes walk-ons, honored before the game. He grew up and played his high school football at Tallahassee Lincoln. At FSU, he has been primarily a blocking tight end. He had only two career receptions but caught a 1-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter to tie the game.
"It came at a good time," Little said. "Unfortunately, we didn't win. That game was crazy. ... It would have been great to come out with a win, but sometimes things happen like that." ...
FSU's iconic radio play-by-play announcer, Gene Deckerhoff, called his 400th football game. He has been calling Seminole football games since 1979. More impressively, Deckerhoff has also been calling Tampa Bay Buccaneers games on Sundays since that time, meaning he catches an early-morning or late-evening flight to wherever the Bucs are playing their NFL game. At the end of the first quarter, Deckerhoff was recognized on the stadium video board and received a loud ovation. ...
In an emotional pregame meeting, Fisher and Virginia coach Mike London brought their children together. London's 16-year-old daughter, Ticynn, was diagnosed 11 years ago with Fanconi anemia -- the rare blood disease that Fisher learned his youngest son, Ethan, 6, was diagnosed with last winter.
The two met, and a photo of Ticynn holding and hugging Ethan was made available. She has been virtually cured of the disease, after her father was a near-perfect match for a bone-marrow transplant.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Greene -- After missing the middle half of the season with his ankle injury, the standout freshman looks like he has regained his form. He took a reverse 53 yards and caught four passes for 21 yards. The Seminoles will need him to step up even more against Florida.
LOOKING GOOD: While FSU's defense looked out of gas and out of position on Virginia's five-play, 75-yard touchdown drive with 90 seconds remaining, the Seminoles stuffed Virginia for most of the game. The defense limited the Cavs to a season-low 78 yards rushing on 29 attempts and continually gave the FSU offense chances to move in for a game-sealing score. When you give up just 14 points, you should win games against Virginia. And if FSU's offense had converted and kicked a field goal to extend the lead to nine points late in the game, it may have ended without a close finish.
STILL NEEDS WORK: The scorn for Florida State's inept offensive line has become like beating a dead horse. It's been a season-long issue. But that's not the half of it when looking at the Virginia loss. Florida State's lack of discipline re-emerged. The Seminoles had several long punt returns that could have led to points called back because of penalties. They had a roughing-the-passer penalty that was pivotal. They had 11 penalties for 94 yards to continue enhancing their place as the league's most penalized team. It's become an annual award. FSU can't keep from making the same mistakes and having Fisher continually repeat how it's inexcusable. Eventually, the coaching bears responsibility.
QUOTE TO NOTE "This is one of the toughest ones. We had some tough losses early on, and we had a little bit of a streak going, and we were still just practicing hard and playing hard. And for something like this to happen, it kind of brings you down as a team." -- Florida State DE Brandon Jenkins on the team's loss to Virginia.