Missing a 37-yard field goal early in the first quarter, Florida Gators kicker Caleb Sturgis rebounded with makes from 30 and 51 and a game-winning 27-yard attempt to help the No. 1 team in the country overcome four turnovers to defeat the Arkansas Razorbacks 23-20 on homecoming night in The Swamp.
In front of a crowd of 90,508 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Florida improved to 6-0 (4-0) on the season and kept a school record and nation-leading 16-game winning streak alive. Tied 20-20 with 4:19 remaining in the game, the Razorbacks missed a 38-yard field goal, returning the ball to the Gators on their own 21 yard line. Senior quarterback Tim Tebow led Florida on a 14-play, 69-yard drive down the field to set up Sturgis for his 27-yard kick with nine seconds remaining on the clock.
“I got kind of down on myself early,” Sturgis said about missing his first field goal attempt in the game. “I wanted to make [the last field goal] for my teammates. They work so hard, and I don’t do much [by comparison]. I was ready to hit that ball from 57 [yards] when it was third down.”
It seemed to be Murphy’s Law for the Gators throughout the game, as just about everything that could go wrong did. Florida had four fumbles (three inside the red zone), dropped three passes and allowed Arkansas to hit on a 75-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Ryan Mallett to wide receiver Greg Childs in the fourth quarter. Mallett threw for 224 yards while kick returner Dennis Johnson, who started at running back in place of injured Michael Smith, ran for 107 yards in his stead.
Tebow finished 17-of-26 for 255 yards and a touchdown with 69 more yards on the ground; he also accounted for 52 yards in the team’s final drive. During the game, Tebow became the all-time SEC record holder in touchdown responsibility with 123 (75 passing, 48 rushing), passing former Gators quarterback Danny Wuerffel.
Tight end Aaron Hernandez led all receivers with career-highs in receptions (seven) and yards (92), while wide receiver Deonte Thompson added one 77-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter. Wide receiver Riley Cooper was clutch throughout the game, grabbing six balls for 58 yards and numerous first downs.
While it took the Gators the entire game to recover from their errors and squeak out a win, Tebow was hopeful that the hard fought victory would serve a purpose for his team throughout the remainder of the season. “A win like that brings you so much closer together,” Tebow said. “That will lead up to a great week of practice this week.”
Florida returns to the road next week, heading to Starkville, MS, to take on the Mississippi State Bulldogs on Oct. 24 at 7:30 p.m. The game will air on ESPN/ESPN2.