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Florida State Battles Past UCF for Florida DIAA Title

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Florida State Battles Past UCF for Florida DIAA Title

FSU Seminoles have their trophy.

It wasn't easy but Florida State did end up running the table in the Florida DIAA league, edging a tenacious Central Florida to take the conference.

As we have outlined, since the Florida DIAA Conference is not a member of any over-arching competition group, their champion does not advance to any national-level competition. 

Alex Goff chats with Kirk Swanner about DIAA Playoff splits and the Florida playoff scene>>

So this was the final and culminating game for both teams. The last time Florida State and Central Florida had plated, FSU had won 41-14. In that game UCF had scored early but Max Larson's boot and vision had helped FSU regain the lead. In this game, Larson, who was second in the conference in points scored, did not have his usual accuracy.

The game began with Florida State on the front foot. They were held up in-goal and Central Florida chased well on the goalline dropout, while the Seminoles made an ill-advised offload. The result was a turnover, then a penalty to UCF, then another penalty inside FSU territory. Caleb Goertzen slotted the goal and Central Florida had a lead.

Right after that lightning appeared in the sky and the game was halted for a time. This didn't do much for Florida State's momentum, and while they had a penalty attempt soon after retaking the field, Larson's effort was wide. Goertzen replied with another kick and UCF led 6-0.

Late in the first half No. 8 Angus Kelly powered over for Florida State to make it 6-5 at the break.

The Seminoles took the lead in the second half with a try from wing Ilan Egosi. Larson, who had missed a few kicks that he normally hits, converted the tough angle to make it 12-6. Lock Alex Kurleman capped off another Florida State surge, and against Larson was good on the kick to make it 19-6.

With FSU down a player due to a yellow card, UCF rebounded. They scored two tries while Larson added a penalty for FSU, making it 22-18 with 10 minutes to go.

Those were a very tense 10 minutes.  

"The game had not gone the way I expected," said Florida State Head Coach Michael Gomez. "But in the end what we did was respond to pressure."

With UCF's regular inside center out with a red card, Florida State targeted his replacement, Joshwon Bush, when carrying the ball. Bush is normally a wing and hung tough, but his job was a difficult one. Meanwhile, on defense Florida State tried to isolate power-running No. 8 Michael MacNeil, who had scored 15 tries in the regular season and playoff rounds. MacNeil did score a try in this final, but the attention paid him by the Seminole defenders made it difficult for his support to link up.

"We finished it up we needed our depth," added Gomez. "It's a final so we weren't looking necessarily to play everyone, but when it was this close late we needed guys to be smart and make an impact. We got that."

Prop David Krauss, loose forward Dominic Trunkett, and scrumhalf Gabe Lopez all put in key minutes late.

"These are guys who play smart rugby and weren't going to make a huge mistake."

Florida State held on 22-18 to win the conference title.

Prop Cristian Gonzalez was a force and as usual flyhalf Kiaran O'Keeffe and flanker Jonathan O'Keeffe were effective. This was a very good showing for the conference as a whole, and, played in front of Florida State Rugby's biggest crowd of the year, perhaps raised the profile of the game on campus, too.

Next up for Florida State is a bit up in the air as it's not clear whether they will get any 7s invitations. However, Gomez already has an offseason workout plan set up for a squad that started five freshmen and had nine freshmen in the gameday 23. Gomez developed a detailed workout plan last year that was years in the making, and it worked.

"The guys who stayed with the workouts were the players who contributed the most," he said. 

Sometimes it just comes down to finishing the game.