Graham Mertz throws the ball in the Florida Gators football team's game against LSU on Nov. 11. Photo courtesy of Molly Kaiser.

Florida Loses In Last Seconds At Missouri; Mertz injured

The Florida Gator football team gave it their all on Saturday evening against the No. 9 Missouri Tigers, but they were unable to pull off the upset on the road.

Florida (5-6, 3-5 SEC) came up just short against the Missouri Tigers in a 33-31 loss at Faurot Field. It was a close one from start to finish, but the Tigers (9-2, 5-2) converted a 4th-and-17 in the final two minutes of the game to set up a game-winning field goal.

The defeat proved to be a costly one for UF, as starting quarterback Graham Mertz suffered a collarbone injury late in the game that is expected to sideline him for the remainder of the season. Prior to his premature exit, Mertz went 14-for 21 and threw for 183 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Backup quarterback Max Brown finished off the evening completing four of his five passes for 56 yards. He also tallied 42 yards on the ground, but lost a fumble as well.

Looking past Mertz’s injury, Florida’s offense put together another strong outing against Missouri. Montrell Johnson and Trevor Etienne combined for 167 yards on the ground, while the team itself finished with 500 total yards of offense. Backup quarterback Max Brown chipped in with 98 total yards of offense after Mertz went down.

But where the offense soared, the defense struggled. Missouri running back Cody Schrader dominated all evening long, rushing for 148 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries. Quarterback Brady Cook also had a strong outing, throwing for 331 yards and one touchdown while completing 20 of his 34 passes. Luther Burden III led the Tigers’ receiving corps with 9 catches and 158 yards on the night.

Gators Keep It Close In The First Half

Missouri started off the evening with a strong opening drive that saw them land in the red zone, but Florida’s defense managed to hold them to a field goal. The Gator offense now had an opportunity to seize control early on, and they took it. On just their second offensive play of the game, Graham Mertz found Ricky Pearsall on a 61-yard deep ball. Mertz found Eugene Wilson III in the end zone three plays later for an eight-yard touchdown.

On the subsequent two drives, the Gator defense forced back-to-back punts from Missouri. Florida’s offense, however, could not capitalize, as they failed to score on either of their next two drives as well. By the end of the first quarter, the score remained 7-3. But not for long.

Just two plays into the second quarter, Schrader burst through Florida’s defense for a 42-yard touchdown. With their lead now gone, the Gators struggled to find an offensive spark following their opening drive.Β  After an eight-play drive that ended in another punt, Mertz threw his first interception since September on a bobbled pass by Arlis Boardingham.

Missouri converted on a 38-yard field goal following the Florida turnover to extend their lead to 13-7. The Gators attempted to put together one last scoring drive before the half, but a costly intentional grounding penalty kept them out of field goal range.

More Offensive Action In The Second Half

After the halftime break, the Gators’ offense looked rejuvenated and ready to go. Etienne opened up the third quarter with a 30-yard run to immediately flip the field for Florida. He turned in another big play later in the drive, hauling in a quick pass from Mertz for a 37-yard touchdown.

Missouri responded with a touchdown drive of their own. After Cook found Burden III on a 38-yard strike, the former eventually took it into the end zone himself for a one yard rushing touchdown.

Not to be outdone, Mertz found Hayden Hansen on a 38-yard pass of his own on the first play of the subsequent drive. Ricky Pearsall then took it to the house on a 39-yard rushing touchdown. All of a sudden, the game had transformed from a battle of the defenses to a complete offensive shootout.

Missouri came away with a field goal on their next drive to reclaim a 23-21 lead. With the third quarter winding down, Florida had an opportunity to put their foot on the gas pedal and take control of the game. But that opportunity all but went down the drain just three plays into the drive.

After an 11-yard carry for a first down, Mertz exited the game with what turned out to be a “nondisplaced collarbone fracture,” according to Gator coach Billy Napier. Brown entered the game and initially drove the Florida offense into the red zone. Nevertheless, the Tigers defense flipped the script on the Gators, as they snagged a bobbled handoff from Brown to Johnson for their second turnover of the game.

Fighting Until The End

It only took the Tigers two plays to go up two scores after the fumble recovery. Cook found Theo Wease Jr. on a 77-yard bomb to extend Missouri’s lead to 30-21 with 13 minutes remaining.

Despite their backs now being pinned against the wall,Β  the Gators refused to give in. After a pair of big runs from Brown and a 27-yard dart to Kahleil Jackson, Florida found itself back in the red zone. Etienne churned his way through the Tigers’ defensive line for a nine-yard touchdown to make it a one-score game yet again.

Florida now needed a quick stop on defense, and they got exactly what the doctor ordered. A pair of runs from Schrader went nowhere on first and second down, and Princely Umanmielen sacked Cook on third down to force a Tigers punt. With 4:44 remaining, the Gators had a chance to take the lead.

On all eight plays of their final offensive drive, Florida ran the ball every single time. Initially, it worked like a charm, as a pair of big gains from Etienne and Brown landed the Gators in the red zone with less than two minutes to go. But the Tigers stuffed Etienne on his next three attempts, forcing Florida to settle for a 35-yard field goal.

Gators Crumble On Final Drive

The Gators now had a two-point lead, but Missouri still had a chance to put together their own game-winning drive. Cook played very methodically to open up the drive, finding receivers on quick darts and getting out of bounds fast to stop the clock. Eventually, however, the Tigers were forced into a 4th-and-17. A false start penalty and a backwards play backed Missouri up seven yards, and Cook threw back-to-back incompletions on the next two plays.

All the Gators needed was one final stop, and their upset bid would be complete. But that stop was nowhere to be found. Cook hit a wide-open Burden in the middle of the field for a 27-yard pass and a fresh set of downs. From there, the game was all but over. Cook managed to squeeze in two more completions to drive down to the Florida 13-yard line, and Harrison Mevis drilled a 30-yard field goal with just five seconds left on the clock. The Gators’ dreams of an upset (and perhaps a spot in a bowl game) had vanished. Final score: Missouri 33, Florida 31.

Florida will return to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Saturday for a 7 p.m. game against the No. 5 Florida State Seminoles (11-0), who also just lost their starting quarterback, Jordan Travis, to a season-ending injury.

About Jack Meyer

Jack Meyer is a third-year student at the University of Florida. He is majoring in Journalism and specializing in Sports and Media.

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