Florida State wide receiver Greg Carr (18) celebrates with teammates Bert Reed (83) and Antone Smith (6) after his touchdown reception in the final seconds of the second quarter against Wisconsin during the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando, Fla., Saturday.AP PHOTO
ORLANDO, Fla. — Derek Nicholson and Dakota Wilson returned fumbles for touchdowns, Christian Ponder threw two TD passes and Florida State routed Wisconsin 42-13 Saturday in the Champs Sports Bowl.
Florida State (9-4) finished with more than eight wins for the first time since 2004.
Nicholson had two fumble recoveries, including one he returned 75 yards for a first-quarter touchdown. Punter Graham Gano averaged 48.2 yards on five and had three downed inside the Badgers 5 to earn game MVP.
P.J. Hill ran for 140 yards on 15 carries for the Badgers (7-6), but quarterback Dustin Sherer completed only four of nine for 55 yards through the first three quarters. His fumble early in the fourth quarter was returned 51 yards for a score by Watson to put FSU up 35-6.
It was an ugly finish to a disappointing season for Wisconsin, which was ranked as high as No. 8 early and was expected to contend in the Big Ten.
Ponder completed 18 of 31 passes for 199 yards.
Hill broke runs of 46 and 43 yards, both setting up Philip Welch field goals. But he fumbled deep in FSU territory late in the third quarter and Nicholson recovered to end the threat.
Florida State, playing in its NCAA-leading 27th-straight bowl game, improved coach Bobby Bowden’s career record to 21-10-1.
Antone Smith scored on a 6-yard run off right tackle to put the Seminoles up 21-6 in the third quarter and make the power running Badgers have to go to the pass to catch up.
Gano placed three first-quarter punts inside the 4, including two inside the 1. The Seminoles couldn’t turn that field position edge into points, though, and when Sherer hit Garrett Graham on a slant for a gain of 43, the game seemed to turn.
But on second-and-9 at the Seminoles 19, Sherer took a one-step drop and tried to hit Hill on a quick screen. The ball, clearly a lateral, was deflected by end Neffey Moffett and picked up by Nicholson, who ran 75 yards for a score, high-stepping the last 20. FSU led 7-0 with about 12 minutes left in the first half.
Nicholson’s celebration was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct and after a short squib kick, Wisconsin took over at the Seminoles’ 46. Sherer, though, was sacked by Moffett on third-and-2 at the 38 and the Badgers had to punt.
Hill broke a 46-yard run around right end on the Badgers’ next possession, leading to a 31-yard field goal by Welch with 4:46 left in the first half to cut the lead to 7-3.
FSU forced Wisconsin to punt deep in its own territory with less than a minute left and took over at the Badgers’ 47 with 40 seconds left. Ponder hit Louis Givens on a swing pass for 26 yards and then found Greg Carr on a fade route in the right corner for a one-handed 15-yard TD catch with 7 seconds left that put the Seminoles up 14-3 at halftime.
Wisconsin came out running the ball in the second half, with Hill’s 43-yard burst setting up a 41-yard field goal by Welch.