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Seminoles end on a positive note

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Long after most of his teammates left the locker room, Chris Rix sat smiling in his uniform.

The redshirt freshman quarterback's erratic play was one reason Florida State had its worst season in 15 years, but Rix spent the week before Tuesday's Gator Bowl promising to give a glimpse of a better future.

And then he did it, throwing for 326 yards and two fourth-quarter touchdowns as the Seminoles beat Virginia Tech 30-17.

"That's all we could have done today. We couldn't have won the national championship. We couldn't have done some other things," Rix said. "All we could do was win and build momentum for next year and end the season on a positive. It's a big positive for us, winning this game."

The victory extended to 16 coach Bobby Bowden's unbeaten string in nonchampionship bowl games and moved him into a tie with Bear Bryant for second on the Division I-A victories list with 323, four behind Penn State's Joe Paterno. It was Bowden's 18th victory in a bowl game.

Bowden, though, didn't want the focus on himself, not after Rix and his team put a solid finish on what had become a year for grooming.

And they did it in a way that makes the future look bright.

Rix, nearly benched earlier in the season, stood in the pocket knowing he was going to get hit hard and wrist-flicked a pass that Javon Walker turned into a go-ahead 77-yard touchdown pass.

"The corner came down, wanted to intercept the ball and Javon just stuttered and blew by him," Rix said. "I pumped it because I didn't want to throw it into the corner and then just put it up as I got drilled."

The pass sparked a 17-point fourth quarter that allowed the Seminoles (8-4) to put the Hokies (8-4) away, much as they did with an 18-point explosion in the final quarter of the 1999 Sugar Bowl championship game.

Rix was still on the ground when Walker scored, but when Rix came back out for the next series, he did it again, again finding Walker behind corner Ronyell Whitaker — this time for 50 yards — to set up a field goal.

A late 23-yard scoring pass to Walker sealed the outcome, and left the cocky Whitaker feeling compelled to shoulder the blame for the loss.

"Those last two touchdowns and the deep ball, that was on me," the two-time all-Big East cornerback said. "I messed up."

Walker, who caught just four passes for a Florida State bowl-record 195 yards, said the day was his best with the Seminoles.

"The coaches came in at the half and said, 'We're going to start throwing it up for you to make plays,' " Walker said. "That's all I could ask and that's what I came out and did in the second half."

Trailing 20-17, the Hokies opted to go for it on fourth-and-1 from the Florida State 32, but Kevin Jones was stuffed for no gain.