The Seminoles struggled from the start of the game, going 3 & out on their opening drive and then Senior kicker Roberto Aguayo was short on distance, missing a 52 yard field goal on their 2nd drive.
Houston scored the first points of the game on their second drive , with Greg Ward Jr. taking a 7 yard rush to the left side of the endzone to make it 7-0 with 5:17 left in the first.
FSU was able to answer back on their next drive, but only with a field goal as Aguayo redeemed himself. But on the same drive, FSU quarterback Sean Maguire went down with a lower leg injury as he was hit going out of bounds. He would not return until midway through the 2nd quarter.
When Maguire returned, his ankle was heavily taped and he had a noticeable limp, but his energy seem to help excite the team as he returned to the huddle. Unfortunately that energy did not reverberate to the field, as FSU went 3 & out on Maguire’s returning drive.
On Houston’s ensuing drive, Ward Jr. led the Cougars on a 7-play 75 yard drive, capping it off with a 20 yard touchdown pass to a wide open TY Cumming’s in the endzone. This made it 14-3 with 6:06 left in the half.
On FSU’s next possession the mistakes started, as running back Dalvin Cook fumbled the ball and it was picked up by the Coogs. It was Cook’s first turnover since the 2015 Rose Bowl Semi-final game against Oregon.
This gave Houston the ball on the FSU 17 yard line, and they wasted little time capitalizing on the turnover. In fact it took just 3 plays, as Ward connected with Cummings for the second time in the endzone, to make it 21-3.
On the next Nole’ possession, Maguire threw his first of 4 interceptions. At the half FSU had just 6 rushing yards and were 1 for 8 on 3rd down. FSU’s inability to pick up first downs and get the running game going were a key to the result of the loss.
Houston head coach Tom Herman commented on his defenses performance in the first half after the game. “It was a great game plan. It was tremendously executed by the players out there. And that’s (FSU) a physical outfit that’s used to running the ball really, really well. And our guys rose to the occasion, and we certainly wouldn’t be sitting here enjoying this win had they not.”
In the 2nd half, it looked as if FSU was recharged and ready to make it a ball game. The defense forced Houston into a 3 & out on their opening drive. Then Maguire led his troops on a 9 play 59 yard drive, as Dalvin Cook capped it off with a 1 yard burst into the endzone to make it 21-10 with10:18 left in the 3rd.
The rest of the 3rd quarter was a defensive battle that saw 2 Houston 3 and outs and two more Sean Maguire interceptions. Neither team seemed to be able to get anything going. Then the 4th quarter came and the fireworks started…
Houston tacked on a field goal on their first possession of the 4th to make it 24-10 Coogs, with 12:50 left in regulation.
Then it was FSU’s turn, as Maguire found Travis Rudolph running in open space down field as he threw a beautiful ball that landed right in Rudolph’s hands as he made his way 65 yards into the endzone to draw the Noles back within a score.
Then Houston answered right back, with a methodical 12 play 75 yard drive that ended in a 17 yard pass from Greg Ward Jr. to Allen Chance, as they extended their lead once again to two scores.
Well, the Seminoles were not about to back down yet. Maguire once again led his troops right down the field. He found Jesus Wilson in the endzone on a 14 yard TD pass that made it 31-24 with just 5:04 left to play.
With plenty of time left on the clock, the Noles defense just had to come up with one more stop and they would have a chance to win or send the game into overtime. But the FSU defense seemed to be exhausted and it didn’t take long for the Cougars to find the endzone once again.
With 1:59 left to play in the game, Houston’s Ryan Jackson found his way into the endzone from just two yards out to make it 38-24, in essence ending the game.
On the next FSU possession, it looked like the Nole’s could possibly make it interesting as Maguire led the Seminoles into Houston territory. But on 4th and 10 from the Houston 40, Maguire threw his 4th interception of the game, sealing Houston’s 2015 Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl win.
FSU’s Sean Maguire finished the game 22 of 44 passing for 392 yards and 2 TD’s. Dalvin Cook couldn’t get anything going on the ground for the Noles, as he accumulated just 33 yards on 18 carries.
Dalvin Cook expressed his confidence that the Nole’ can grow from the loss after the game, “I’m very excited and confident in this group coming back next year. We’ll use (todays game) as motivation.”
Houston’s Greg Ward Jr. completed 25 of 41 passes for 238 yards and a TD. On the ground Ward Jr. added 20 carries for 67 yards and 2 rushing TD’s. He was name to 2015 Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl Offensive MVP.
On defense for Hosuton, Trevon Stewart recovered a fumble and caught two interceptions, as he was named the defensive MVP of the game.
The win for Houston puts them back into the national spotlight and Head Coach Tom Herman assured everyone in the stadium during the trophy presentation that, “Look around you, the Coogs are back!”