Two blocked kicks – first on a field goal, then on a punt – kept the South Carolina Gamecocks (5-5, 3-5 SEC) alive, and a powerful running game allowed the visitors to pull out a 23-20 overtime victory over the Florida Gators (5-4, 4-4 SEC) on Saturday afternoon at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
Florida spoke all week about its plans to “take back The Swamp,” and the Gators appeared to have the game well in hand until late, when after failing to gain a first down that would have run out the clock, UF had a punt blocked with 39 seconds remaining. USC rumbled into the end zone a couple plays later to force overtime and eventually outscored the home team 6-3 in the extra period to end the contest with a win.
The Gators dropped an overtime game for the first time in five tries and are now 4-3 all-time in such contests including 3-2 in The Swamp and 1-1 this season. UF is also now 22-7 against unranked opponentsa nd 13-5 against unranked Southeastern Conference teams under head coach Will Muschamp.
Muschamp falls to 1-3 against South Carolina and head coach Steve Spurrier, and his ability to keep his job is in serious question after another late meltdown cost UF another win at home.
South Carolina drove right down the field on its opening possession with quarterback Dylan Thompson completing passes of 30 and 20 yards to get the Gamecocks into the red zone. Once there, running back Brandon Wilds took off for 20 yards on 3rd and 2, scrambling into the end zone untouched to spot USC an early 7-0 lead.
A Florida three-and-out put South Carolina right back on the field, and it took advantage of the opportunity with a 15-play, 66-yard scoring drive. The Gators actually stopped the Gamecocks on 4th and 1 on USC’s own 41-yard line, but a facemask penalty on the tackler, UF junior defensive end Dante Fowler Jr., continued the possession. South Carolina was eventually held up inside the red zone and forced to convert a 32-yard field goal.
Another untimely penalty, a false start by junior left tackle D.J. Humphries, stalled Florida’s first significant offensive drive of the afternoon, but the Gators nevertheless cut their deficit to 10-3 as redshirt senior kicker Frankie Velez converted a 35-yard field goal with 6:37 left until halftime.
Following a huge defensive stop inside the Gamecocks’ 10-yard line, Florida took over at midfield with 1:25 remaining until the break. Freshman QB Treon Harris completed his second pass of the day on the possession, ending a 5-play, 50-yard scoring drive with an 11-yard touchdown throw to sophomore wide receiver Demarcus Robinson on a slant.
Responding to USC’s 10 first-quarter points, UF posted 10 of its own in the second to tie things up as the teams entered the locker rooms.
Fowler came through after the break with a huge third-down pressure to force South Carolina into a 47-yard field goal attempt, which it missed. Florida took advantage of the field position, gaining 32 yards on 3rd and 12 as Harris found junior WR Latroy Pittman open down the middle. Harris then moved the Gators inside the Gamecocks’ 1-yard line with a 22-yard keeper on 3rd and 8. Two plays later, junior RB Matt Jones snuck the ball over the line to push UF ahead 17-10.
South Carolina and Florida traded fumbles on each team’s next possession, with Gators senior safety Jabari Gorman forcing and recovering one near midfield to earn UF the ball back. Harris coughed it up three plays later, however, as the ball was knocked out on his way to converting another third down.
The Gamecocks once again struggled to move the ball, finding themselves in a 3rd and 22 following a bad snap and sack courtesy of Fowler. However, South Carolina gained 15 yards on a screen pass and moved up to the 50-yard line after a Florida sideline infraction penalty. Spurrier decided to go for it on 4th and 2, but UF sophomore cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III blew up an option to force the turnover on downs with 11:29 to play.
Unable to take advantage of the field position and an opportunity to add to its lead, Gators senior punter Kyle Christy pinned the Gamecocks inside their 2-yard line with a 45-yard punt. Florida forced a punt on the ensuing possession but nearly coughed the ball back up as the punt hit freshman RB Brandon Powell and rolled on the ground until junior walk-on WR Roger Dixon fell on it.
A 15-yard personal foul penalty on South Carolina CB Chris Lammons pushed UF into the red zone, but the Gators were unable to come away with points as Velez had his 32-yard field goal attempt blocked. The Gamecocks then moved into the host’s territory on a questionable 15-yard pass interference called on UF junior DB Marcus Maye.
Maye got a measure of revenge by deflecting a well-thrown ball by Thompson on 3rd and 10, and Florida’s defense forced another turnover on downs after a bad snap led to an off-balance throw on fourth down. Unfortunately for the Gators, a blocked punt gave the Gamecocks the ball back on the UF 34 with 39 seconds remaining. A 27-yard catch by RB Mike Davis got USC down to the 7-yard line; a couple plays later, he dropped an option pitch but fell on it in the end zone to tie the game 17-17.
Unable to move the ball after losing the toss and starting on offense in the overtime period, Florida took a 20-17 lead as redshirt sophomore K Austin Hardin converted a 35-yard field goal. South Carolina ran the ball six times after gaining possession, earning two first downs and finishing with a touchdown when Thompson took a keeper into the end zone.
Bowl eligibility will be on the line for the Gators next week when they host Eastern Kentucky on Senior Day at Florida Field.