Rebels blow 22-point lead in loss to Florida State

Published 9:35 am Tuesday, September 6, 2016

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Deondre Francois was a little concerned after his first couple of drives Monday night.

Things weren’t going exactly as Florida State’s redshirt freshman quarterback had hoped. Some critical passes floated high, some fell short, and the fourth-ranked Seminoles trailed No. 11 Ole Miss by 22 points before the end of the first half.

Then it all came together in the second quarter. Francois stood in the pocket and delivered a 16-yard touchdown pass to Travis Rudolph, the first of 33 consecutive points for the Seminoles in a 45-34 season-opening win over Ole Miss — the largest comeback victory in school history.

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“Things weren’t going right, but I couldn’t panic because my team needed me behind the wheel,” said Francois, just the fourth freshman to start the season as the Seminoles’ quarterback.

“So I just kept chopping. We were down 28-6, but I couldn’t let them see me down, I had to portray the image that we were not about to lose this game.”

Francois made plays with both his arm and legs while playing in front of his home crowd in Orlando. He completed 33 of 52 passes for 419 yards and two touchdowns, and also rushed for 59 yards.

He led the Seminoles on four touchdown drives and positioned freshman kicker Ricky Aguayo to convert a school-record six field goals while FSU scored on nine consecutive possessions between the second and fourth quarters after falling behind 28-6.

“He’s a kid who loves his team,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said of Francois. “His teammates believe in him, and he’s a fighter, and he’s a competitor, which I’m very proud of.”

Francois outplayed his much more experienced counterpart, Ole Miss senior Chad Kelly, who threw for 313 yards and four touchdowns but also had three interceptions and a fumble.

Francois didn’t commit a turnover and played with poise that earned him his teammates’ confidence.

Most of the night the Rebels’ front seven was able to limit Seminoles star running back Dalvin Cook, who led the ACC in rushing last year. However, Cook hurt Ole Miss in the passing game with seven catches for 101 yards.

In fact, many of Francois’ completions were dinks and dunks, but left uncovered they were lethal.

Ole Miss had two major injuries as starting cornerback Kendarius Webster and backup running back Eric Swinney were both carted off the field in the first half with what were described as left knee injuries.

“He just wants to make everything perfect, he wants to perfect his craft,” Cook said. “The confidence he has coming into the huddle, you have no choice but to go out and execute for him because he is going to lay it on the line for you.”

The Rebels’ up-tempo offense is potent, but big mistakes by Kelly under pressure took away any momentum. Kelly had three touchdown passes in the first half, but his turnovers brought the offense to a standstill. The Rebels gave 13 points off turnovers, fueled by Kelly’s three interceptions and a fumble. He also was sacked five times.

“Jimbo (Fisher) and I were talking before the game, there was going to be a good football team that walked out of here tonight not feeling well, and it’s us,” Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said. “We did not deserve to win the game the way we played the second half.”