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Bowden Goes Out A Winner

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) -- Bobby Bowden watched the clock run down to :00, then took his last walk to midfield as his Florida State players jumped up and down, thrusting their helmets into the air.

The coach went out a winner, carried off by the Seminoles.

Jermaine Thomas ran for two touchdowns, Florida State scored 20 straight points to take control and the Seminoles knocked off No. 18 West Virginia 33-21 in the final game of Bowden's storied 44-year career as a head coach.

Bowden finished with a 389-129-4 record, and most importantly to him, a 33rd consecutive winning season. Next week, Jimbo Fisher takes over at Florida State, which finished 7-6 for the third time in the last four years.

That run of mediocrity was the 80-year-old Bowden's downfall - he wanted to stay at least one more season - but on this day, none of that mattered to the Florida State faithful, which serenaded him with "Bob-by! Bob-by!" chants throughout the day, saving their loudest cries for the very end.

With 1:39 left, Bowden trotted down to the Florida State band section, removing his autographed white cap and tossing it into the seats - and the celebration began. When it was over, Bowden was surrounded by a wall of photographers, trying to make his way over to shake the hand of West Virginia coach Bill Stewart - who was a 177-pound walk-on for Bowden's first Mountaineers team in 1970.

"It's got to be memorable," Bowden said. "It's my last dadgum ballgame after 57 years of coaching."

Bowden leaves as major college football's second-winningest coach. Joe Paterno earned his 394th victory Friday in the Capital One Bowl as Penn State beat LSU 19-17.

Bowden spent much of the afternoon hugging his former players who lined the sidelines. Some of them now were middle-aged men, their hair tinged with gray.

Noel Devine rushed for 168 yards and a touchdown for West Virginia (9-4), which ran out to a 14-3 lead, then sputtered the rest of the way.

There was even a "wide right" - in Bowden's favor, for a change.

This was Bowden's day, and the Seminoles made sure he wouldn't be denied.

Everything about the matchup was arranged with celebrating Bowden in mind, and that didn't change on game day.

More than 350 of Bowden's former players were there as guests, and thousands of fans - many of whom arrived 2 hours before Bowden - braved 52-degree air and steady rain to line the route the coach and his wife, Ann, would take into the stadium, followed by the rest of the Seminole roster.

There was a pregame video of Bowden highlights. He got a new car, a gift from Toyota and the Gator Bowl. And then came a rare treat even for Bowden, the right to take the flaming FSU spear from Chief Osceola and slam the point into the turf at midfield, one of Florida State's most revered pregame traditions.

"I'm very excited. Ann and I are very excited to be here in front of the Seminoles and also the Mountaineers," Bowden said from the field to a sold-out crowd moments before kickoff. "I couldn't help but get nostalgic when I heard the West Virginia band play their fight song. And then also, to hear the Seminoles play ours."


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