TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida State paid Samford $500,000 looking for a guaranteed win. The Seminoles got a victory — but quite the run for their money.
Deondre Francois threw for 320 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winning score to Tre’ McKitty with 4:03 to go, as Florida State held off Samford 36-26 on Saturday.
Trailing 26-21, Francois led the Seminoles (1-1) on an 11-play, 82-yard drive that put them ahead for the first time this season. Francois connected with McKitty for the 5-yard touchdown, and he then found Nyqwan Murray for the two-point conversion pass as Florida State went ahead 29-26.
Florida State scored its final 15 points in a span of just 1:40. The win was the first at Florida State for Willie Taggart, who opened with a 24-3 loss to Virginia Tech on Monday.
“It wasn’t pretty but it was good to see our guys find a way to come back and get a win after we started slow and weren’t playing as well,” Taggart said.
Samford’s Devlin Hodges threw for 475 yards and a pair of touchdown passes to Kelvin McKnight but tossed four interceptions. Levonta Taylor returned the last one 63 yards for a touchdown with 2:23 to go.
Hodges completed 39 of 60 passes for Samford (1-1). It was one of the best games of his career, just short of the school-record 516 yards he threw for last season against Western Carolina.
“We just fought all the way there until the end,” Samford coach Chris Hatcher said. “We had a couple of bounces that didn’t go our way. We had a couple of turnovers that really hurt us.”
Francois completed 31 of 46 passes for 320 yards, including a pair of touchdown passes to redshirt freshman Tamorrion Terry. The junior quarterback had his sixth career 300-yard game, completed passes to eight receivers and also had an 8-yard touchdown run.
“Any win is a good win no matter who you’re playing,” Francois said. “We’re going to get the mistakes corrected.”
McKnight caught 14 passes for 215 yards, including touchdowns from 54 yards and 27 yards, for the Bulldogs. Samford last defeated an FBS team in 2013, when the Bulldogs won at Georgia State. Florida State has never lost to an FCS program.
Cam Akers had 14 carries for 76 yards and a team-high seven receptions for 38 yards. Florida State finished with 134 rushing yards on 35 carries.
Ricky Aguayo missed a pair of field-goal attempts, including a 42-yarder with 9:59 left that hit the right upright.
Florida State’s defense bent early but was effective in the second half. The Seminoles grabbed three interceptions, forced three punts and allowed just a field goal in the final 30 minutes. Florida State forced five turnovers after not recording one in the loss to Virginia Tech.
The start of the game was delayed one hour, 25 minutes due to weather.
The Seminoles played without their top lineman, right tackle Landon Dickerson (ankle). Another lineman, Abdul Bello, also missed the game with an undisclosed injury. Arthur Williams, who converted from defensive tackle in August, got the start at left guard.
Florida State: The Seminoles are 24-0 against FCS teams since 1978.
Samford: The Bulldogs pushed Florida State to the limit and led for more than 55 minutes.
Florida State: The Seminoles will play at Syracuse on Saturday.
Samford: The Bulldogs will play host to Mercer on Saturday.
The Seminoles wore decals on their helmets with a license plate that read “BAN ONE” for Burt Reynolds, who died on Thursday at 82. FSU’s band, the Marching Chiefs, also spelled out “Burt” during a halftime tribute.
A former Florida State football player in the mid-1950s, Reynolds was a roommate with Lee Corso. Reynolds played in one season at Florida State before knee and leg injuries forced him to stop playing football and he began to pursue an acting career.
Reynolds, who has 186 acting credits including “Smokey and the Bandit” and won an Emmy for “Evening Shade,” frequently gave donations to the FSU football team and paid for new uniforms for the team in the early 1980s. The program’s residence hall is still named after Reynolds.
McKnight grew up in Bradenton and played at the same school, Manatee High, as Taggart. The Samford senior receiver wanted to play well against the Seminoles, and he scored on a 54-yard touchdown pass just minutes into the game.
“He’s been wanting to run this double move all year and so-called it ‘spear’ and it worked pretty good,” Hatcher said.
HODGES CLEARS 11,000
The Samford senior surpassed 11,000 career passing yards on Saturday. Hodges now has 11,106 passing yards and 86 touchdown passes.
He is closing in on Southern Conference leader Scott Riddle, who threw for 13,264 at Elon from 2007-10. The FCS all-time leader is former Alcorn State star Steve McNair, who threw for 14,496 yards from 1991-94.
“I think it gives us a lot of confidence,” Hodges said of the performance against the Seminoles. “I’m just proud of the guys.”