A victory may have been in doubt for a while, but the Florida Gators (6-5) fought back from a 15-point first quarter deficit to defeat the Furman Paladins (6-5) 54-32 on Saturday afternoon at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, FL.
Florida senior quarterback John Brantley completed 16-of-28 passes for career-highs of 329 yards and four touchdowns in the win. With the victory, the Gators became bowl eligible for the 21st consecutive season, the longest streak in the Southeastern Conference and second-longest in the nation.
Furman shocked Florida by scoring on their first possession, running the ball six-straight times for 67 yards and a rushing touchdown after UF redshirt junior kicker Caleb Sturgis missed a 51-yard field goal attempt.
The Gators committed a safety the next time they got the ball when redshirt sophomore center Jonotthan Harrison snapped it over Brantley’s head close to the end zone. The Paladins took advantage of the short field on the ensuing kickoff by concluding a five-play, 55-yard drive with a 31-yard touchdown through the air.
Down double digits, Florida fought back immediately. Brantley completed a 41-yard pass deep down the right sideline to redshirt senior wide receiver Denote Thompson and another 14-yard strike down the middle of the field to redshirt sophomore tight end Jordan Reed three plays later for a touchdown.
The Gators were reeling at the end of the first quarter but took it to the Paladins shortly after the second quarter began. Florida ended a seven-play, 65-yard drive with a one-yard rushing score by freshman fullback Hunter Joyer, and Brantley hooked up with redshirt sophomore WR Andre Debose for an 80-yard touchdown on the first play of UF’s next possession. A two-point conversion failed, leaving the Gators down 22-20.
Florida sophomore defensive tackle Dominique Easley blocked a punt on FU’s next drive, getting his team the ball back at their opponent’s 34-yard-line. Brantley responded with a 29-yard touchdown pass to redshirt freshman WR Quinton Dunbar, who tapped one foot down in the back of the end zone for the score.
UF had a chance to add a field goal at the end of the half, but Sturgis pushed a 40-yard attempt to the left and Florida kept its 27-22 lead at the break.
The teams traded field goals and punts to open the second half before swapping touchdowns to close the third quarter. The Gators had possession with 1:16 to play in the quarter, and Brantley again threw deep to Debose for a 64-yard touchdown. The Paladins responded immediately with a 77-yard rushing touchdown from running back Jerodis Williams on the first play of their ensuing possession.
Florida held just a five-point advantage into the fourth quarter but took their shots at Furman from that point forward. Sturgis nailed a 55-yard field goal to end the quarter’s first possession, and freshman safety De’Ante Saunders intercepted Forcier’s next pass and returned it 25 yards for a touchdown to put the Gators ahead 47-32.
After another pair of punts, Florida got back on the board when redshirt sophomore Will linebacker Jelani Jenkins picked off Forcier and returned it 75 yards for the second pick-six of the game.
Though they were trailing 22-7 at the end of the first quarter, the Gators outscored the Paladins 47-10 through the final three quarters of the contest.
Debose had a career-high 151 yards and two touchdowns, and redshirt senior RB Chris Rainey led the rushing attack with 15 carries for 90 yards. Reed added four receptions for 56 yards and a touchdown, Dunbar had two catches for 54 yards and a score, and Thompson made two grabs for 45 yards.
Saunders registered Florida’s first interception return for a touchdown this season and caught his second pick in as many games. Jenkins nabbed his first interception of the season after dropping a number of balls early in the year.
Sturgis’s two field goals gave him 44 for his career, good for second all-time in school history behind Jeff Chandler (67).
The Gators posted more than 50 points in a game for the first time since registering 55 against Vanderbilt one year ago.
Despite the 22-point victory, Florida only outgained Furman 453-445. The Gators had 116 more yards in the air (329-213) but were outrushed 233-124 on the afternoon. UF committed six penalties for 60 yards in the contest, gave up two fourth-down conversions (on two attempts) and possessed the ball 13:24 less than FU (23:18-36:42).
Florida will conclude its regular season next Saturday by hosting rival Florida State in The Swamp. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m., and the game will air live on ESPN2.
Photo Credit: Phil Sandlin/Associated Press