NEW ORLEANS -- No. 1 at the start, No. 1 at the finish.
Florida State is the perfect national champion.
Led by the sizzling Peter Warrick and the steady Chris Weinke, the Seminoles held off Virginia Tech for a 46-29 victory in the national championship game Tuesday night.
The Hokies' thrilling freshman quarterback, Michael Vick, did all he could to run his team to victory in the Sugar Bowl, but it wasn't enough.
Warrick electrified a Superdome crowd with a record 20-point game - he caught touchdown passes of 64 and 43 yards, returned a punt 59 yards for a score and snagged a 2-point conversion pass from Weinke.
The 27-year-old Weinke, playing perhaps the final game of his college career, completed 20 of 34 passes for 329 yards and four TDs - two to Warrick and two to Ron Dugans. Warrick finished with six catches for 163 yards in the highest-scoring Sugar Bowl in history.
Vick threw for 225 yards and one TD and ran for 97 yards and a score.
Florida State (12-0) was certain to become the first team to go wire to wire in The Associated Press' poll since the preseason ratings began in 1950. The final AP poll will be released early Wednesday to confirm the obvious.
The Seminoles were automatically crowned national champs in the USA Today-ESPN coaches' poll under the Bowl Championship Series format.
All week, Warrick and his senior pals promised each other they would do everything possible to avoid losing three title games. They did - in a big way - and Bobby Bowden completed a remarkable year. He won his 300th game in the first father vs. son coaching matchup, celebrated his 70th birthday and 50th wedding anniversary and finally attained his first perfect season in 40 years as a coach.
Warrick, the All-American wide receiver who lost his chance at the Heisman Trophy after a two-game suspension for his role in a shopping mall scam, came up with his best performance in the final game of his college career.
In the first half, he caught three passes for 100 yards and his punt return helped the Seminoles build a 28-14 lead after 30 minutes of big plays. Last season, he was held to one catch for seven yards in a Fiesta Bowl loss to Tennessee in the national title game. In fact, in three previous bowl games, Warrick totaled five catches and no TDs.
He opened the scoring with his 64-yard grab, then took a punt and blazed past Tech defenders for a 59-yard score and a 28-7 lead.
Late in the game, with half the crowd of 79,280 chanting "Peter Warrick, Peter Warrick," Weinke reared back and threw a 43-yard TD pass to the wide receiver, who caught the ball while diving into the end zone with a Virginia Tech defender draped over him. The chants rang out again and Warrick ran to the sideline to celebrate with his teammates.
The win over the upstart Hokies (11-1) stamped the Seminoles as the Team of the Decade and ended a run of national title misses under Bowden. Since winning its first national crown in 1993, Florida State had lost two of the past three title games - 23-16 to Tennessee last season, and 52-20 to Florida in '97 in what until Tuesday night was the highest-scoring Sugar Bowl.
The loss ended Virginia Tech's dream season and a bid for its first national title in 107 years of playing football. Vick was valiant in defeat. The 19-year-old left-hander overcame a lost fumble near the Seminoles goal line on the game's opening drive and led the Hokies back from a 21-point deficit to a 29-28 lead with 2:13 left in the third quarter.
Florida State somehow regrouped and regained the lead as Weinke hit Dugans on a 15-yard score with 12:59 left in the game. Warrick caught a 2-point conversion pass from Weinke and the 'Noles were back in the lead, 36-29.
Florida State got the ball back when linebacker Bobby Rhodes' helmet knocked the ball from Vick's grasp and safety Sean Key recovered at the Hokies 34. The turnover set up Sebastian Janikowski's 32-yard field goal with 10:26 that put the Seminoles ahead 39-29.
And then came Warrick's best catch of all to seal the title. After stopping Tech on fourth down, Florida State took over at the Tech 43 and Weinke found Warrick, who held onto the ball with cornerback Roynell Whitaker hanging over him.
Down 28-14 at the half, Virginia Tech seized the momentum. Vick threw a 26-yard completion to set up Shayne Graham's 23-yard field goal to make it 28-17.
The Hokies defense came alive and forced a punt, which was returned 46 yards to the Seminoles 36 by Ike Carlton, the cornerback subbing for injured Ricky Hall. Three plays later, Andre Kendrick raced 29 yards for a touchdown to pull the Hokies within 28-23. Kendrick stepped in for Shyrone Stith, Tech's 1,000-yard rusher who missed the second half with a sprained left ankle. Vick's 2-point conversion pass attempt was incomplete.
Cornerback Anthony Midget then intercepted a long pass intended for Warrick, and Vick went to work again. He threw a 23-yard pass to Cullen Hawkins, was sacked for a 7-yard loss and then went on a catch-me-if-you-can 22-yard dash to the 6. Kendrick scored from 6 yards out and the Hokies were ahead for the first and only time.
While Virginia Tech may be the undisputed champion on special teams - 63 in the 1990s - it was Florida State that excelled in that department, too. Sixty-eight seconds after Warrick's first score. it was 14-0 after linebacker Tommy Polley blocked a punt by Tech's John Kibble, and Jeff Chaney scooped it up and went 6 yards for a touchdown with 2:14 left in the first quarter. It was the first time in Kibble's career he had a punt blocked.
In the second season under the BCS format, everything went Florida State's way. The Seminoles, ranked No. 1 in both major preseason polls, also had a schedule that was sixth-toughest among 114 I-A teams. As long as Florida State kept winning, there was little chance the computer-heavy BCS standings would leave the 'Noles out of the title game.
Florida State had a healthy Weinke, Warrick for nine games and a solid but unspectacular defense led by noseguard Corey Simon. When the defense was burned for 387 yards and four TD passes by Georgia Tech's Joe Hamilton, the Seminoles' offense took charge for a 41-35 victory on Sept. 11.
Bowden got career victory No. 300 against Clemson, coached by Bobby's son, Tommy, in college football's first father vs. son coaching matchup.
Finally, there was the annual showdown with Florida, this time at The Swamp. After the Gators went ahead 16-13 midway through the third quarter, Weinke led the Seminoles to a tying field goal and two more TDs to seal a 30-23 victory.
Forty-five days later, the relieved Bowden has himself a second national championship. What a decade!