Louisville, Ky — There was little evidence to believe that Tate Rodemaker would have much of any success at the moment.
He’s looked solid at Florida State practice, sure. But time and time again, the Seminoles’ reserve quarterback has crumbled in the spotlight. He had been tossed aside in the minds of FSU fans and media members alike as to having any realistic chance of a productive career at FSU.
So when the nightmare scenario struck Friday night and starting quarterback Jordan Travis suffered a leg injury with the Seminoles trailing 21-14 at Louisville, it was understandable if anyone with a rooting interest elected to panic.
It quickly became clear that Travis was not going to be available to return. And it similarly became clear that FSU’s coaching staff wasn’t looking to use true freshman quarterback AJ Duffy.
So it fell on Rodemaker’s shoulders. While the talent has always been there, it had never translated into a real game. He entered Friday’s game with eight career appearances and had completed 20 of 37 passes (54.1 percent) for 152 yards with no touchdowns and four interceptions, many of which were indefensible throwing decisions for one reason or another.
When he had an intentional grounding and then threw his fifth career interception to end his first full series on consecutive plays late in the first half, the calls went up.
Try Duffy. Try tight end Wyatt Rector, a former quarterback. Try the Wildcat.
Anything but more of him.
What came next is a moment that will be etched in FSU lore regardless of what the rest of Rodemaker’s career holds. He completed 5 of 7 second-half passes for 115 yards and his first two career touchdown passes, leading the Seminoles to 21 second-half points and a come-from-behind 35-31 win over the Cardinals and helping FSU reach its first 3 -0 start in seven years.
“I’m so proud of Tate Rodemaker. I knew we could win with Tate,” FSU coach Mike Norvell said. “I’ve seen it in practice, I’ve seen him work. I’ve seen him invest so much and be prepared for the moment. I got put in a challenging situation on the road, but he went out and responded there in the second half. It is just an incredible example of what this team is built on.”
From the start of the second half, you saw a difference in Rodemaker. He had a few nice passes on that drive and an impressive scramble to pick up a critical third down and long in Louisville territory.
The very next play after that, running back Lawrance Toafili broke free off the edge for a 15-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 21.
“After the first touchdown when LT scored. I think I was like, ‘Ok, we can come back and win this…'” Rodemaker said. “I think the first half, I kind of got thrown out there at the end. It wasn’t a good situation. But the second half, I felt like I was calm, went out there and played my game how I do in practice.”
After that touchdown were a pair of three-and-outs deep in FSU territory. When Louisville reclaimed the lead after the second-such drive, Rodemaker responded again. He took a first-down sack but then stood in the pocket and delivered the throw of the night, a ball that traveled almost 50 yards through the air and hit wide receiver Johnny Wilson in stride for a 69-yard gain.
He followed that up with his first career touchdown pass to Wilson on the very next play, a 10-yard touchdown on a slant route, at a moment that was three seasons and countless hours of work in the works for Rodemaker.
When Louisville reclaimed the lead, Rodemaker needed to make one more drive. He did just that, engineering an eight-play, 75-yard scoring drive and capping it off with a perfectly thrown fade to Wilson, which he caught with ease in the corner of the end zone.
“Everyone prepares for their moment on the team,” Wilson said. “Everyone knows to stay locked in at practice, you never know when your moment could come. Tate came in, it didn’t phase any of us, I don’t think. I knew we could win with Tate.”
In a second consecutive win which displayed the remarkable strides Norvell and his staff have done to flip FSU’s program culture, there’s something fitting about Rodemaker, the first player to commit to FSU after Norvell took the job, playing such a shockingly heroic role.
“He took a deep breath at halftime, we knew the plan of what we wanted to do and he went out there and executed flawlessly in the second half,” Norvell said. “Even on some of the incompletions, he was in control. He was in control of that second half and I thought he did a remarkable job. I just played football…
“That’s why you play this game. That’s why you coach this game. For times like this, when your number is called and you get to rise up and go show people how you respond.”
Wilson, who finished with 149 receiving yards and two touchdowns, was chosen to break the rock in the locker room over Rodemaker.
But Rodemaker didn’t mind.
“I’m glad he got to break the rock because he played a hell of a game,” Rodemaker said.
The moment was enough for Rodemaker. He left the field with a beaming smile – one which seemed to tell the story of his journey – and received a special shoutout from Norvell in the locker room.
The severity of Travis’ injury and a potential timetable for a return remain unknown at this moment. How Rodemaker will handle it if he has to start next week’s game against Boston College is also unknown.
But none of that matters at this moment. This moment is for Rodemaker, the man who just may have kept the Seminoles’ season on the tracks when hardly anyone expected it.
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