Florida State coach Mike Norvell apologized for his team's stunning 20-17 loss to Jacksonville State on a touchdown pass with no time remaining late Saturday night. The loss was the first in program history to an FCS opponent.
Norvell, in his second year as Florida State coach, took full responsibility for the defeat, which he described as "totally unacceptable." Going into Saturday, Florida State was 26-0 against teams that were FCS members at the time of the game since the FBS/FCS split in 1978.
The last time Florida State lost to a non-major opponent was in 1961 against Southern Miss. At the time, Southern Miss was in the college division (the precursor to Division II/III).
"I apologize to our fan base, to our university, to all Seminoles for the performance we had," Norvell said. "I take ownership of it, but we go in and work, correct the things that have to be corrected to play to the level we're capable of playing. This team has talent, they have heart, they truly do believe in what we can accomplish, but we have to go execute. It can't just be something we talk about in the moment. I've been a part of challenging times before. Tonight is a challenging time for our university and our football team. We will get it corrected."
With six seconds remaining, Florida State led 17-14, but Jacksonville State was in desperation mode, knowing it needed a score. Quarterback Zerrick Cooper threw a pass to Damond Philyaw-Johnson, who got behind the defense and eluded two tacklers to walk into the end zone for a 59-yard score as time expired -- shocking Florida State coaches, players and fans.
Norvell said his team did not line up in a prevent defense and tried to get pressure on the quarterback because Jacksonville State had one timeout remaining. Defensive end Jermaine Johnson II said the Seminoles "didn't execute how we were supposed to" on the final play.
Jacksonville State ended up planting its flag at midfield in a triumphant celebration.
"It's embarrassing," Florida State quarterback McKenzie Milton said. "We've got to own that. That's who we are. We lost to Jacksonville State. We're 0-2, so all we can do is look forward."
Florida State made the same mistakes that have plagued the team over its recent four-year downturn: too many penalties, too many dropped passes, too many missed assignments, too many missed tackles. The Seminoles had 11 penalties for 114 yards, many of them stalling drives or making it hard for the offense to gain any rhythm.
"If we keep putting ourselves in positions like that, we'll probably lose every game," Milton said.
Florida State has finished with losing records in three straight seasons -- including a 3-6 finish in Year 1 under Norvell. But he and his players spoke optimistically about this season, believing this team would show improvement. After taking Notre Dame down to the wire in an overtime loss Sunday night, it seemed easy to believe that progress had been made. Florida State showed a grit and resiliency that had been missing for quite some time.
But their performance against Jacksonville State showed the lowest moments for the Seminoles are still not behind them. If anything, losing to an FCS school for the first time in school history shows Florida State still has a long way to go before it truly fixes all the issues inside the program.
"Our focus has to be on us," Norvell said. "We've got to go out there and make sure that we're doing the things that are necessary to represent this program in the way it deserves to be represented. That needs to be our sole focus. Guys are extremely upset. They are all frustrated, as we are as a staff."
The problem is that coaches and players have sent the same message for years now about correcting mistakes and making sure the team is more disciplined on game days. But when the same problems continue and span coaching staffs, how do they ultimately get corrected?
"We are still all bought in," Johnson said. "Next week, we have to flush it. You have to have a great response. That's what we've been building upon. If not, then we're just fake. All we can do is lead by example, everybody on the team. Put their best foot forward and attack it the right way. We have to do that, and we will do that."