The Florida (5-4, 4-4 SEC) Gator football team blew another fourth quarter lead in The Swamp, this time to South Carolina (5-5, 3-5 SEC) who won 23-20 in overtime. The win marked South Carolina’s second win in school history in Gainesville and in the process spoiled the Gators’ chance at an SEC East title.
Two big special teams plays won this game for South Carolina. The Gamecocks blocked a field goal late in the fourth quarter to prevent the Gators from securing a 10 point lead with three minutes to go. They also blocked Florida’s punt with under a minute to go to set up the game-tying score and send it into overtime.
“We put ourselves in a position to win that game bottom line,” Florida head coach Will Muschamp said. “If you don’t get the punt blocked, you win the game. That’s the bottom line. We knew what we had to do to win the game, we put ourselves in that position, we didn’t get it done.”
South Carolina scored right out of the gates on its opening series on an 85-yard drive that took only three minutes. The drive concluded with a 20-yard touchdown run by running back Brandon Wilds.
On the Gamecocks’ second drive of the game, they chose to go for it on fourth-and-one at their own 42-yard line, but the Gators stopped them, except for the fact that Dante Fowler Jr. was called for a face mask penalty. That tacked on 15 yards and a fresh set of downs for South Carolina. Nine plays later, Elliot Fry knocked in a 31-yard field goal to put SC up 10-zip with two minutes to go in the first quarter.
The Gators ended the first quarter with zero passing yards and only had 25 total yards of offense.
Florida finally got on the board in the second quarter thanks to a 34-yard field goal from Frankie Velez. The nine play, 46-yard drive for the Gators featured all run plays.
The Gators got a huge touchdown to end the first half as Treon Harris found wide receiver Demarcus Robinson in the end zone for an 11-yard touchdown. The key play on the five-play, 50-yard drive was Robinson was able to initiate a pass interference call on South Carolina, which moved the ball from mid-field to the SC 24. Three plays later, Harris connected with Robinson in the end zone to knot things up at 10 apiece to end the first half.
In the third quarter, after neither team could do much on offense, the Gamecocks’ were able to work their way down to UF 29-yard line. However, Fry’s 47-yard field goal was wide left to keep the score tied at 10 and give the ball back to the Gators.
Florida capitalized after they took over, marching 71 yards in 10 plays, capped off by a one-yard touchdown run by Matt Jones to give the Gators a 17-10 lead — their first lead of the game. Harris converted a pair of big third downs on the drive, one being a 32-yard completion to wide-receiver Latroy Pittman. The other one came on a 22-yard run by Harris, who got the ball to the one. That set up the Gators go-ahead TD.
The momentum clearly swung to the Gators because on the Gamecocks’ ensuing possession, wide receiver Shaq Roland caught a 21-yard pass, but not before UF safety Jabari Gorman stripped it to cause a fumble and then recovered it himself at the Carolina 42.
However, the Gators couldn’t take advantage of the opportunity — a constant theme through the day.
Instead, they gave the ball right back to start the fourth quarter, as South Carolina punched the ball out of Harris’ arm on a third-and-two run and recovered it at their own 31-yard line. The Gamecocks only mustered 17 yards as their series was stalled on a magnificent play by Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III, who stopped running back Brandon Wilds in the flat on an option play on fourth-and-two.
Florida had the chance to make it a two-score game, but Velez’s 32-yard field goal attempt was blocked by South Carolina and the ball rolled all the way to the SC 41.
However, the Gators were able to get a crucial stop on third-and-10 thanks to a pass that was broken up by safety Marcus Maye. That forced the Gamecocks’ to go for it on fourth-down. Thompson fumbled the bad snap and chucked it long but it was incomplete to give the Gators the ball back to try and run out the clock with two minutes to go in the game.
But, UF couldn’t get the first down it needed to seal the game. And to make matters worse, the Gamecocks blocked the punt giving them the ball at the UF 34-yard line with 39 seconds to go. Four plays later and after a costly pass interference call on Florida, South Carolina scored on a bizarre option play to running back Mike Davis, who fumbled it, but recovered the ball in the end zone to tie the game at 17 and send it into overtime.
“Two blocked kicks with 3:30 to go playing in the game, cost us the football game,” Florida head coach Will Muschamp said. “Don’t know what else to say other than that. We got 40 seconds to go, just get the ball off. We have an operation time issue on the field goal and a low kick. It didn’t matter what the operation time was, it would’ve been blocked anyways.”
Florida got the ball first to start OT and only managed to get seven yards, but it was able to get a 35-yard field goal from Austin Hardin to take a 20-17 lead. South Carolina took over and ran the ball right down Florida’s throat. The Gamecocks used five run plays to finish the off the Gators as Dylan Thompson took it in himself from four yards out to clinch the 23-20 victory.
“We’re hurt; we’re still a team. We have to move onto next week,” cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III added. “Obviously, we wanted it, but we can’t do anything about it now. We need to just move on and continue our season.”
With the Gators now officially out of the SEC East race, offensive lineman Chaz Green says they still have a lot to play for.
“We’re playing for each other, playing as competitors, playing for the game of football, the man next to you. We playing for a lot things, fans, coach, lot of stuff. We just gotta dig deep and pull close.”
Florida safety Jabari Gorman isn’t worried about the team’s cohesiveness, despite the teams third deflating loss in a row at home.
“We always unified no matter what. There’s no finger pointing or anything like that because we work all off season and we always talked about staying together no matter what.”
The Gators will have their final home game of the season next weekend when they host Eastern Kentucky at noon. Pregame coverage begins at 8 am on ESPN 850 WRUF.
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