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Travis sparks big first half, Noles hold off No. 5 UNC in second half

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Florida State showed signs of being close and fighting to the finish. On Saturday, they fought early, bent late but prevailed.

Jordan Travis threw for a touchdown and ran for two more TDs as Florida State pulled ahead of No. 5 North Carolina and held off a furious second-half rally for a 31-28 victory on Saturday.

Travis guided an offensive attack that generated 434 offensive yards for FSU (2-3, 1-3 ACC), but also no second-half points. That opened the door as UNC quarterback Sam Howell engineered three second-half touchdown drives to pull within 31-28, but Tar Heels receivers had drops on third and fourth down in the final seconds to halt the comeback bid.

The Seminoles gave coach Mike Norvell a signature victory in his first season in Tallahassee following a shaky start that included a blowout loss at Miami. 

“There’s been plenty of adversity throughout the course of this year, through the early part of this season,” Norvell said. “These guys believe in what we do. Coming off of last week, we saw moments, we saw flashes, we saw a team that was playing harder, really trying to work to play together. This week we challenged throughout the course of the week that we needed that consistency to show up. I thought this was our best week of preparation. To go out there against a top-5 opponent, I thought we started incredibly fast. …

“We knew a run was coming. When you’re playing a good team, they’re going to make plays. It went down to the last play and our guys were giving everything they had. It’s been challenging in every aspect and they continue to respond and really proud of those guys and see that reaction. To see them in the locker room, the celebrations, that was pretty special.”

Travis, a redshirt sophomore making his second career start, completed 8 of 19 passes for 191 yards and added 16 carries for 107 yards and two touchdowns as the Seminoles jumped out to a 31-7 halftime lead, the most dominating performance for the program in recent memory. What followed was a nail-biting second half as the Tar Heels (3-1, 3-1) stormed back.

The win was the Seminoles’ first over an AP top 25 team since defeating Boston College on Nov. 17 2018. Florida State’s last win over a top-10 team was over No. 6 Michigan in the Orange Bowl on Dec. 30, 2016.

Offense

Florida State scored on four of six drives in the first half (three touchdowns and a field goal), not counting the defensive touchdown. While one score was set up by a short field, the field goal came at the end of a 91-yard drive and then FSU added a pair of 75-yard touchdown drives.

Travis was 6 of 13 for 182 yards and a 12-yard touchdown pass to Camren McDonald in the first half. He also ran nine times for 68 yards and two touchdowns.

Florida State ran for a season-high 241 yards on 36 carries (6.7 yards per carry). La’Damian Webb had 109 yards on 12 carries.

Ontaria Wilson caught two passes for 61 yards and Keyshawn Helton had two catches for 43 yards.

Tamorrion Terry had crutches in pregame but also set them down and was catching passes. He seemed comfortable putting pressure on both feet.

Preston Daniel had his first career reception, for 36 yards, on third-and-6 to get FSU away from its own goal line on the final play of the first quarter.

Defense

Howell completed 20 of 36 yards for 374 yards against the Seminoles, whom he was committed to for about six months in 2018 before signing with North Carolina just weeks after Mack Brown was hired.  

UNC was 13th in FBS in third-down conversions (51 percent) coming into the game but the Tar Heels were just 2 of 11 on third-down conversions and 0 for 3 on fourth-down tries.

FSU had four sacks, surpassing its four-game total coming into UNC game. Janarius Robinson had two sacks, Jarvis Brownlee had a sack while Cory Durden and DJ Lundy each had half sacks. 

Durden was flagged for targeting in the second quarter and was ejected. That limited the Seminoles’ defensive tackle depth as they were already without Tru Thompson and Fabien Lovett, who watched from the sideline.

The Seminoles received some welcome news pregame when the school announced Dennis Briggs opted in and will play this fall. Briggs had three tackles.

Travis Jay returned after a two-game absence and had seven tackles. Hamsah Nasirildeen was on the sideline but did not dress out.

Stephen Dix Jr. announced as starting linebacker and led the team with nine tackles. Jaiden Lars-Woodbey also had eight tackles.

Special teams

FSU blocked UNC’s first two punts. Ja’Khi Douglas had a punt block that DeCalon Brooks returned for a short gain to the Tar Heels’ 24, setting up the Seminoles’ first touchdown. Marvin Wilson tipped UNC’s second punt.

Ryan Fitzgerald connected on a 24-yard field-goal attempt in second quarter. He also missed from 33 and 38 in the second half.

Noteworthy

The announced attendance was 18,016.

Scouts from the Chicago Bears, Atlanta Falcons, San Francisco 49ers and Jacksonville Jaguars were in attendance. A representative from the Senior Bowl was also at Saturday’s game.

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