John Brantley threw a career-high four touchdown passes, and the University of Florida returned two fourth quarter interceptions for touchdowns to pull away from Furman, 54-32, at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium Saturday afternoon. The Gators became bowl eligible with the victory.
Furman (6-5, 5-3 SoCon) stunned Florida (6-5, 3-5 SEC) by quickly jumping out to a 22-7 lead, but the Gators settled in and out-scored the Paladins 47-10 over the game’s final three quarters.
Brantley calmly marched the Gators back, hitting 16-of-28 passes for a career-high 329 yards and four touchdowns, including 80 and 64-yarders to Andre Debose. Florida finished with 453 yards of total offense, 329 in the air and 124 on the ground. Debose had three receptions for a career-high 151 yards.
The Gators took the opening kick and marched into Furman territory as Brantley completed 3-of-4 passes on the drive and Hunter Joyer converted a fourth-and-one at the Furman 38-yard line. The drive stalled shortly after, however, and kicker Caleb Sturgis pushed a 51-yard attempt wide right.
Furman wasted little time establishing its ground game, marching 67 yards in just six plays, needing just 2:24 off the clock. Tersoo Uhaa and Will King ripped off 23 and 22 yard runs respectively to set the Paladins up deep in Florida territory. Moments later Jerodis Williams punched it in from 1-yard out to give Furman the lead with 8:31 left in the first quarter. The extra point hit the upright and the score remained 6-0.
On Florida’s first offensive play on its next series Jonotthan Harrison snapped the ball over Brantley’s head and into the end zone. Brantley batted the ball out of the end zone for a safety giving Furman an 8-0 lead.
After getting the kick back following the safety, Furman continued to waltz down the field on a stunned Florida defense, marching 55 yards on five plays to grab a 15-0 lead with Chris Forcier found David Hendrix alone down the middle of the field for a 30-yard touchdown with 5:48 left in the first quarter.
The Gators offense clicked on its next possession, needing just four plays and 1:21 to march 64 yards. Brantley hit Deonte Thompson for a 41-yard strike down the right side of the field to set the Gators up at the Furman 15-yard line. Three plays later he found Jordan Reed for a 14-yard touchdown strike to cut the lead to 15-7.
The Paladins pulled out their bag of tricks on the ensuing drive as Forcier swung the ball out to Colin Anderson who then threw to a wide open Sederrik Cunnigham for a 47-yard touchdown pass with 2:01 left in the first quarter to grab a 22-7 lead.
The Gators got a quick defensive stop to open the second quarter and quickly took advantage. Chris Rainey ripped off a 17-yard and Brantley hit Jordan Reed with 19 and 17-yard passes to set the Gators up inside the 10-yard line. Joyer pounded it in from 1-yard out, bouncing off a defender and continuing into the end zone to cut the lead to 22-14 with 10:42 remaining in the half.
After stopping Furman in Florida territory, the Gators took over at their own 20 after a touchback. Brantley needed just one play, finding a streaking Debose down the left side of the field for an 80-yard strike to cut the lead to 22-20. Florida’s attempt for a two-point conversion and the tie came up short when a direct snap to Rainey came up shy of the end zone.
Dominique Easley set the Gators up again with a blocked punt that gave Florida the ball at the Furman 34-yard line. It took just two plays for the Gators to take their first lead, as Brantley found Quinton Dunbar in the back of the end zone from 29 yards out with 3:08 left in the half.
Florida looked poised to add to its lead late in the first half after Rainey ripped off a 37-yard run into Furman territory. The Gators lined up for a 40-yard attempt for Sturgis, who pushed the kick left and the score remained 27-22 heading into the locker room.
Furman took the kick in the second half and cut the Gator lead to 27-25 on a 23-yard field goal by Chas Short. The Paladins started the drive in Gator territory with the benefit of a personal foul on Matt Elam during the kickoff return.
Rainey carried the Gators into Furman territory on Florida’s first possession of the second half, including an 18-yard run down to the 31-yard line. Sturgis finally connected, hitting a 43-yarder with 6:17 left in the third quarter to up Florida’s lead to 30-25. It was Sturgis’ 44th career field goal moving him into second place all-time in UF history in field goals made (record is 67 by Jeff Chandler).
The Gators added a little distance late in the third quarter, as Brantley and Debose connected again, this time on a 64-yarder on a near identical route to his 80-yard touchdown earlier. The score put the Gators up 37-25 with :52 left in the third quarter.
The 12-point lead lasted just :21 as Williams raced 77 yards down the right side of the field to make it a 37-32 game.
Sturgis continued to make amends for two earlier misses with his second field goal of the game, a 55-yarder with 13:08 remaining, his fifth career field goal of 50+ yards, setting a Florida record.
After going the entire season without an interception return for a touchdown, the Gators came up with two in the fourth quarter.
De’Ante Saunders gave the Gators some breathing room moments later with a 25-yard interception return for a touchdown to put Florida up 47-32 with 12:52 to go. Jelani Jenkins iced the game with a 75-yard interception return with 4:00 remaining, giving UF a 54-32 lead.
For the Gators it was their first game of 50+ points since scoring 55 points at Vanderbilt last November.
Florida got far more than it could have expected from Furman, who amassed 446 yards of offense, 233 on the ground and 213 through the air. Williams finished the game with 133 yards on 19 carries and two touchdowns for the Paladins.
The Gators conclude the regular season next Saturday night with the annual rivalry game with Florida State at the Swamp at 7 p.m. on ESPN2.