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Manuel magnificent in FSU debut

Photo by Paul Dehner

Photo by Paul Dehner

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- The 80-year-old embattled coach was sitting in a golf cart and upbeat moments after his redshirt freshman quarterback kept their bowl hopes alive.

Not far away, the opposing team's redshirt senior quarterback was overcome with emotion.

A good day for Bobby Bowden, EJ Manuel and Florida State meant a tearful final home game and bowl elimination for Riley Skinner and Wake Forest Saturday, with the Seminoles' 41-28 victory perhaps marking a change in the Atlantic Coast Conference's quarterback hierarchy.

Manuel, the highly touted recruit out of Virginia Beach, Va., threw for a touchdown and ran for another in his first career start. Jermaine Thomas helped out by rushing for 149 yards and a touchdown as the Seminoles (5-5, 3-4) moved closer to extending their nation-best 27-year bowl streak.

With his future uncertain, Bowden had to enjoy watching Manuel fill in capably for the injured Christian Ponder -- and hear Seminoles fans chant Bowden's name in the closing minutes.

"Manuel passed the test," Bowden said. "You still never know the answer until they get into a contest. I thought from the first play on, he showed a lot of poise."

Manuel completed 15 of 20 passes for 220 yards and an interception, outplaying Skinner as the Demon Deacons (4-7, 2-5) fell behind 31-7 in the second quarter. Wake's fifth straight loss ending a school-record streak of three straight bowl games.

Thomas became Florida State's first back since 2002 to go over 100 yards three straight games. It was part of a new-look offense that included more pitches, option play and quarterback runs to take advantage of Manuel's skills.

"All of the coaches supported me, the O-line, the running backs, the defense," said Manuel, pressed into duty when Ponder suffered a season-ending shoulder injury last week. "Christian -- that meant a lot to me -- him supporting me."

Manuel, Ty Jones and Thomas each had touchdown runs and Greg Reid a 68-yard punt return for a score to give Florida State a 31-14 halftime lead against Wake's beleaguered defense.

Now Florida State can qualify for a bowl if its freshman QB can lead another victory next week over Maryland.

"It's doggone impressive," Bowden said. "That's a freshman."