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FSU saves winning season with Emerald Bowl victory over UCLA

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Although Bobby Bowden has led Florida State to much bigger victories in far grander bowls, a winning season is always sweet -- even when it ends with Bowden raising the Emerald Bowl trophy in a chilly baseball park 2,600 miles from Tallahassee.

Lorenzo Booker ran for 91 yards, caught five passes for 117 more and scored two touchdowns, leading the Seminoles to a 44-27 victory over UCLA on Wednesday night to put a happy ending on Bowden's 30th straight winning season.

Sure, this was no fairy-tale finish for a program that once dominated the sport and won two national titles. Wracked by injuries and beset by coaching turmoil that led to Jeff Bowden's in-season resignation as offensive coordinator, the Seminoles (7-6) finished with their worst record since going 7-4-1 in 1986.

But the 77-year-old Bowden still hasn't coached a losing club since going 5-6 in his first season at Florida State -- and with 21 points in the fourth quarter against the collapsing Bruins (7-6), the Seminoles are headed into 2007 with more momentum than they've had all season.

"That's what Florida State used to do all the time," Bowden said. "I hope this is a good sign for us. I've been looking for that sign."

A 3-5 record in ACC play, including four losses in six games to close the regular season, forced Florida State to finish an ignominious year with the longest road trip in school history. The Seminoles have played in 25 straight bowl games, but the last 15 were played in January, with considerably bigger stakes and payouts.

Don't tell that to Booker, a California native who got a chance to impress 130 friends and family members in the stands. This minor bowl was a major win.

"We have a 30-year streak, and we're proud of our history," said Drew Weatherford, who overcame a shaky start to pass for 325 yards, 126 in the fourth quarter. "We had to keep it going, and it gives us a head start and a boost for next season."

Florida State's fourth quarter was dynamite. Greg Carr caught a go-ahead, 30-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-9, and Booker capped his final college game with a key third-down catch and a 3-yard TD run with 6:17 left.

Tony Carter's 86-yard interception return for another score 37 seconds later was the finishing touch in Bowden's 20th bowl victory.

Patrick Cowan passed for 240 yards and Chris Markey ran for 144 for the inconsistent Bruins, who came in with a three-game winning streak, highlighted by a 13-9 victory over archrival USC 3½ weeks ago.

"When you look at the score the next day, I'm sure people are going to say, 'Wow, what happened?" UCLA coach Karl Dorrell said. "But it was a lot different game than the score indicated. We played three pretty good quarters, so from an effort standpoint, I don't have any questions we're heading in the right direction."

Yet the Seminoles rolled over the Bruins on offense, defense and special teams in the second half. Lawrence Timmons returned a blocked punt 25 yards for a score in the third quarter, and Carter's return was just one of several big stops.

"This is one of those times that a lot of people were doubting if Florida State football was any good," Weatherford said. "It makes it sweeter that UCLA beat USC. It shows we're going to be back in the national championship picture at some point in the near future, maybe even next year."

Most in the sellout crowd of 40,331 fans cheered UCLA, but Florida State had a surprisingly solid rooting section for a game on the opposite coast.

Florida State took a 23-20 lead in the third quarter when Dekoda Watson blocked a punt and Timmons returned it for a score, but UCLA went back ahead on Chane Moline's 8-yard TD run moments later.

When a Florida State drive stalled early in the fourth quarter with the Seminoles trailing by four, Bowden and his son proved they had nothing to lose by boldly going for it on fourth and long. Carr easily made his TD catch a step from the end zone when his defender fell down.

Brandon Breazell caught a 78-yard TD pass and Junior Taylor had a scoring catch in the first half for the Bruins, who finished a mediocre regular season playing some of their best football in Dorrell's four seasons.

The Bruins led 20-13 at halftime, and a game expected to be dominated by defense featured 501 total yards in the first half alone.

"We have to use this to drive ourselves to getting better," UCLA linebacker Christian Taylor said. "We need to work even harder in the offseason, because we know we have some weaknesses. Someone had to lose and it's disappointing it was us."