CLEMSON, South Carolina — It didn't take long for Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher to turn from disappointment to hope after the Seminoles' first loss to Clemson in four years.
"There were a lot of guys in that locker room that are extremely hurt," Fisher said Saturday. "As I look in that locker room, I was very proud and excited about the future of that football team."
No. 17 Florida State ended a three-game winning streak over No. 3 Clemson with a 23-13 loss. The Seminoles (7-2, 5-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) led at halftime and held Clemson (9-0, 6-0) without a touchdown in the first half of a game for the first time all season. But Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson led three long scoring drives in the second half to rally.
Florida State, which has won the past three ACC titles and the 2013 national championship, is generally not the place where moral victories go over well. However, Fisher said his players went toe-to-toe with the No. 1 team in the College Football Playoff rankings and nearly pulled off the upset.
"You have to go through some tough moments sometimes to get to where you want to go," Fisher said.
Half the Seminoles starters are underclassmen, including sophomore runner Dalvin Cook, who gained 194 yards against Clemson.
Fisher is confident his players will rebound, starting next week at home against North Carolina State.
The third-ranked Tigers, who landed atop the first CFP rankings this week, took a huge step toward the playoffs with their 23-13 victory over the Seminoles, who were ranked No. 16 in the CFP.
"We won the Kentucky Derby tonight," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. "But we want to win the Triple Crown."
No one's sleeping on the Tigers now. They appear to be able to glide into the playoffs with games against Syracuse, Wake Forest and rival South Carolina — a combined record of 9-18.
Clemson will be heavy favorites to defeat whoever comes from the ACC Coastal in their first league title game since 2011. It's hard to imagine a scenario where Clemson isn't among the four playoff teams.
"We're not worried about that now," said Watson, who rallied the Tigers from the 10-6 halftime deficit. "We've taken it game by game, prepared the same way and gotten these results."
It helps to have Watson in control. He threw a go-ahead touchdown pass to Deon Cain, Greg Huegel kicked three field goals and Wayne Gallman came through with a game-sealing score.
"It's good to control our destiny. It's good to be in the driver's seat," Swinney said. "We just have to keep our hands on the wheel and not get distracted.
Clemson's defense shined, too. After giving up a 75-yard TD to Cook on the game's second snap, it allowed just two field goals the rest of the way. The Tigers stopped Cook on third and fourth down runs in the fourth quarter with the Seminoles a yard from a first down.
The loss all but eliminates Florida State from the college football playoffs.
"It's been a heck of a run," Fisher said. "Time to start another one."
Cook ran for 194 yards, but only 37 came in the second half.
Sean Maguire started for a second straight game and it looked like he and Cook might lead the Seminoles to the upset. After Cook broke off his long touchdown run, Maguire drove Florida State to the Clemson 17 on the next drive.
But Adrian Baker's interception ended the threat and Florida State didn't get into the end zone again. Roberto Aguayo had two field goals, the last from 41 yards out that tied the game at 13-all in the third quarter.
Notre Dame transfer Everett Golson missed a second straight game after suffering a concussion, although Fisher said Golson could've played if needed.