Quarterback Graham Mertz (15) attempts to throw the ball to a teammate during the Orange & Blue Game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Saturday. [Lee Ann Anderson/WRUF]

Blue Team Secures Last-Second Win In Annual Spring Game

The Blue team captured a 19-17 win in the annual Orange & Blue Game thanks to a last-second field goal from Trey Smack. A clear sky and cool weather in The Swamp meant one thing — it was a perfect Saturday for football.

An announced 48,000 fans filed into Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, the highest spring game attendance since 2018. The Orange team led 3-0 at kickoff, after earning a three-point advantage during practice this week.

Freshman quarterback DJ Lagway’s anticipated start for the Gators began somewhat uneventfully. He went three and out on Orange’s first offensive drive and was sacked on second down by Kamran James

UF’s Jaden Edgecombe (43) attempts to move pass defender Quincy Ivory (48) during the Orange & Blue Game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Saturday. [Lee Ann Anderson/WRUF]
Redshirt senior quarterback Graham Mertz made his big return after a collarbone fracture late last season. He led the Blue team down the field, but couldn’t find the end zone. Smack kicked a 31-yard field goal to tie it at three. 

Lagway seemed to brush off the nerves in the next drive. Jadan Baugh rushed to the right for 25 yards to end the first quarter. Lagway capitalized on the momentum with a 22-yard touchdown pass to Aidan Mizell at the start of the second. 

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Aside from another field goal from Smack, most of the second quarter was quiet. That is, until Mertz threw a 60-yard dart up the middle to Eugene Wilson III, who took it into the end zone. Despite amassing 128 yards, Wilson said he still has things to work on in the offseason: 

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With the loss of star wide receiver Ricky Pearsall to the NFL draft, Mertz is confident in the depth of the receiver room to fill that gap:

Lagway wasn’t fazed by Blue’s lead. A deep pass up the middle to Marcus Burke put Orange in the red zone. With just seven seconds left in the first half, Lagway hit Taylor Spierto in the end zone for six. 

The third quarter was all defense. Despite a huge 50-yard pass to the left from Mertz to Khaleil Jackson, Blue only came up with three. On the next drive, Mannie Nunnery intercepted Lagway and returned it seven yards to the 46-yard line. 

Lagway finished the game 12-21-1 with 173 yards and two touchdowns, but he was sacked six times.

Orange took it right back two minutes later. This time, Sharif Denson picked off Mertz with a 12-yard return. 

After a mostly quiet fourth quarter, the last seven seconds were a nail-biter. Blue marched down the field before Smack put it through the uprights once more on a 37-yard field goal with two seconds left to win the game 19-17. Smack was responsible for 12 of Blue’s points.

Coach Billy Napier commented on the abundance of field goals in Saturday’s game: 

Mertz finished 15 for 27 with 243 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Napier said Lagway and Mertz’s differences have complemented each other during spring ball.

Florida will kick off its 2024 season Aug. 31 against the visiting Miami Hurricanes. Mertz noted the team has unfinished business from last season that they’re looking to rectify:

About Scarlett Cooney

Scarlett Cooney is a third-year journalism student specializing in sports and media.

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