PASADENA, Calif.: This wasn’t supposed to happen.
It was over in the first half when Auburn proved once again that the SEC is all there is to know in college football. Florida State played Duke in the ACC championship; they were supposed to be the cream of the crop, the best team in college football?
But then, inexplicably, the Seminoles started to creep back into it. First came a Roberto Aguayo field goal and then a touchdown pass to Chad Abram. The score of 21-10 was suddenly 21-20, and FSU was alive once more.
“As a quarterback you've got to always believe that you are never bigger than the game, and I was out there, I was so outcome oriented. I was like, 'man, I'm trying to blow these boys out,'” Jameis Winston said. “I had to remember, 'hey, I've got to respect the game. I've got teammates around me. I've got a team for a reason, so I can't go out there and do stuff by myself.' I took the initiative in the second half, 'hey, guys, we're here for a reason,' and I was like, 'I'm going to get on my A-game, I'm going to start doing what I need to do.'”
Auburn drove down the field for a field goal, and Florida State found itself in a fourth-quarter, adversity-filled situation for the first time this year. This is what America wanted, what it so desperately needed to know: Can the ‘Noles deal with getting hit in the mouth, or are they simply another soft, offense-only ACC cupcake?
Enter Kermit Whitfield.
The freshman wide receiver who is looked at as the fastest man in college football made the biggest play of the game, the biggest play of his life and possibly the biggest play in Florida State football history.
He read his blocks, hit his holes and outran anybody in a white jersey, leaving everybody behind en route to Florida State’s second kickoff return touchdown of the year. It was unbelievable, incomprehensible and unexplainable, but here it was, on the biggest stage in college football in the Granddaddy of Them All.
“Kermit is a big-time player,” Jimbo Fisher said. “He's a 10.1 in the 100 meters, third-fastest 100 meters in high school history. But this guy is going to be a big-time player. He has great hips, great acceleration, he's learning our offense and getting the touches, but in the open field he's as dynamic as anybody in America. He's as good as anybody I've ever been around and to do it at that stage—our team blocked very well—but he has that finishing speed, and I think the sky's the limit for that guy in his whole career here at Florida State.”
In the end, Kelvin Benjamin would become the hero for the Seminoles, snagging a pass from Winston to clinch the victory. But Kermit Whitfield, in his first season as a Seminole, will now forever live in lore.