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FLORIDA ST. KICKS PAST NEBRASKA

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It wasn't the runaway that almost everyone expected, but Bobby Bowden and top-ranked Florida State probably won their first national championship Saturday night.

Freshman Scott Bentley, whom Florida State recruited to kick it to a title, might have done just that, beating No. 2 Nebraska 18-16 in the Orange Bowl on a 22-yard field goal with 21 seconds left. Bentley's four field goals tied an Orange Bowl record.But Florida State had to survive a last-second field goal attempt by Byron Bennett, who missed from 45 yards on the final play of the game.

On a night when the Seminoles' high-powered attack, led by Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward, was stymied by Nebraska's aggressive defense, Bentley provided much of the offense.

Nebraska had taken a 16-15 lead with 1:16 remaining on a 27-yard field goal by Bennett, who hadn't made a field goal in six weeks.

But Florida State (12-1) took over on its 35 and marched 60 yards in eight plays to set up the game-winning field goal by Bentley.

The final Associated Press poll won't be released until Sunday morning. But the victory should give Florida State the national title; since the AP poll started in 1936, every bowl-winning No. 1 team has captured the national championship.

West Virginia was in contention for the title, but the Mountaineers sustained their first loss Saturday night, 41-7 to Florida in the Sugar Bowl.

Notre Dame (12-1) handed Florida State its only loss and beat Texas A&M 24-21 in the Cotton Bowl, but the Fighting Irish were ranked just fourth in the final regular-season poll.

After Bentley's field goal, Nebraska got the ball on its 43 with 14 seconds left, and reached the Florida State 28 on a pass from Tommy Frazier to Trumane Bell as time apparently ran out. Players and fans ran onto the field.

But officials restored one second on the clock, setting up the 45-yard field goal attempt by Bennett. He appeared to slip as he planted to hit the ball and the kick went wide left as time expired.

Players and fans again ran onto the field, and this time it was official - Florida State had won. Bowden and Nebraska coach Tom Osborne exchanged a quiet moment in the midst of the storm at midfield.

Nebraska was hurt throughout the game by penalties, including a pass interference call and a late hit during Florida State's game-winning drive.

An illegal block penalty wiped out a 71-yard punt return touchdown by Nebraska's Corey Dixon late in the first quarter. Television replays appeared to show cornerback Tyrone Williams pushed Ken Alexander in the back early in the return.

A roughing-the-passer penalty also helped the Seminoles sustain a drive leading to a first-half field goal.

Bowden's Seminoles have been perennial runners-up, finishing in the top four for six straight seasons, but always coming up short of the championship.

But Ward, who completed 24 of 43 passes for 286 yards, helped finally lead them to the championship against Nebraska.

For Nebraska's Tom Osbrone, still seeking his first national title, the loss was a painful reminder of another Orange Bowl defeat 10 years ago. In 1984, an undefeated Nebraska team that was being hailed as one of the greatest ever, lost to Miami 31-30 when the Cornhuskers' two-point conversion pass fell incomplete with 48 seconds left.

Florida State extended its bowl winning streak to nine, tying the NCAA record set by Southern California from 1923-45. Nebraska has lost seven straight bowls, including four to the Seminoles.

It was the 10th bowl matchup and 29th game overall between the top two teams in the AP poll. The underdog won the previous 10 meetings, but 17-point favorite Florida State ended that streak.

Bowden's 239th career victory moved him past Woody Hayes into fourth place on the Division I-A list.

Nebraska led 7-6 at halftime after holding Florida State without a touchdown in a half for the first time this season. But the Seminoles took a 15-7 lead in the third quarter on a 1-yard touchdown run by William Floyd and Bentley's third field goal of the game, a 39-yarder with 3:06 left in the period.

Nebraska pulled to 15-13 on the opening play of the fourth quarter, when freshman Lawrence Phillips scored on a 12-yard run. The Cornhuskers tried a two-point conversion run, but Frazier was knocked out of bounds short of the goal by Derrick Alexander and Ken Alexander.

Florida State, which led the nation in scoring with a 43.2 average, was held to two field goals in the first half by the Big Eight's top defense. It was the first touchdown drought in a half for Florida State since last season's 19-16 loss to Miami in the same stadium.

Nebraska's only score of the opening half came on a deflected 34-yard touchdown pass from Frazier to sophomore Reggie Baul with 5:59 left in the second quarter. Safety Devin Bush tipped the ball as he collided with Clester Johnson at the Nebraska 25 and the ball flew into the hands of Baul. He caught it in stride near the 15 and ran untouched into the end zone to put the Huskers ahead 7-3.

It was Baul's first catch in six games, his first TD reception of the season and only his eighth catch of the year.

The illegal block penalty on Dixon's punt return penalty brought the ball all the way back to the Nebraska 23, and the Cornhuskers punted after making one first down.

Bentley gave Florida State a 3-0 lead with a 34-yard field goal midway through the second quarter.

He made it 7-6 when he booted a 25-yarder with 22 seconds remaining in the half. A key play in the drive was a roughing-the-passer penalty against Nebraska's Kevin Ramaekers, who hit Ward after he threw a 14-yard pass to Tamarick Vanover. The play gave Florida State a first-and-goal at the Nebraska 8, but the drive stalled and the Seminoles settled for the field goal.

Bentley's first field goal also was set up by a penalty, pass interference against John Reece that gave Florida State a first down at the Nebraska 19.

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ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Past Orange Bowls

1974 - Penn St. 16, Louisiana St. 9

1975 - Notre Dame 13, Alabama 11

1976 - Oklahoma 14, Michigan 6

1977 - Ohio St. 27, Colorado 10

1978 - Arkansas 31, Oklahoma 6

1979 - Oklahoma 31, Nebraska 24

1980 - Oklahoma 24, Florida St. 7

1981 - Oklahoma 18, Florida St. 17

1982 - Clemson 22, Nebraska 15

1983 - Nebraska 21, Louisiana St. 20

1984 - Miami, Fla. 31, Nebraska 30

1985 - Washington 28, Oklahoma 17

1986 - Oklahoma 25, Penn St. 10

1987 - Oklahoma 42, Arkansas 8

1988 - Miami, Fla. 20, Oklahoma 14

1989 - Miami, Fla. 23, Nebraska 3

1990 - Notre Dame 21, Colorado 6

1991 - Colorado 10, Notre Dame 9

1992 - Miami, Fla. 22, Nebraska 0

1993 - Florida St. 27, Nebraska 14

1994 - Florida St. 18, Nebraska 16