GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Florida rallied in the second half for the fourth time this season, edging SEC newcomer Missouri, 14-7 at the Swamp Saturday.
Mike Gillislee took a short pass from Jeff Driskel and went 45 yards for a touchdown with 13:32 remaining for the winning score. But it wasn’t until Josh Evans picked off James Franklin in the end zone with :05 left and Missouri at the Gators’ 21-yard line that Florida could finally breathe a sigh of relief.
The Gators picked off Franklin four times on the day as the defense gave Florida a chance to win. The victory improved Florida to 8-1 on the year while the Gators finished SEC play with a 7-1 mark. While their fate is still up for grabs as far as a spot in the SEC Championship and they do not control their destiny, the historic books will acknowledge the Gators as SEC East co-champions at minimum after Saturday’s win.
Florida (8-1, 7-1 SEC) rallied for 14 second half points, getting a 36-yard touchdown run from Omarius Hines in the third quarter in addition to Gillislee’s game-winning touchdown.
The Gators trailed Missouri (4-5, 1-5 SEC), 7-0, at the half after the Tigers capitalized on a Gillislee fumble in UF territory, getting a 1-yard touchdown run by Kendial Lawrence with 6:10 left in the first half.
The Gators appeared to make the first impact play of the game early in the second quarter when Jaylen Watkins intercepted Franklin and returned it to the Missouri 19-yard line. The Gators marched backwards 10 yards, however, via a 5-yard loss by Gillislee and a false start and had to settle for a 47-yard field goal attempt for Caleb Sturgis, who entered the game with a sore ankle. His attempt with 11:07 left in the first half was blocked and the game remained scoreless.
Midway through the second quarter the game swung when Gillislee fumbled at the Florida 27-yard line and E.J. Gaines of Missouri pounced on the ball. Franklin hit T.J. Moe with a 12-yard gain and L’Damian Washington with a 9-yard pass to the Florida 6-yard line. Lawrence then carried it in from a yard out to give the Tigers a 7-0 lead with 6:10 remaining in the first half.
Early in the second half the Gators pinned Missouri at its 3-yard line after a Kyle Christy punt. After forcing a three-and-out, Pop Saunders returned Missouri’s punt to the Tigers’ 40-yard line setting up the Gators in prime position.
Two plays later the Gators lined up in the Wildcat with Trey Burton under center and Hines went around the right side and raced down the sideline for a 36-yard touchdown to tie the game with 9:03 left in the third quarter.
Missouri marched 12 plays and 68 yards all the way down the Gators’ 7-yard line on the ensuing drive but Louscheiz Purifoy blocked Andrew Baggett’s 25-yard field goal attempt and the game remained tied.
The Tigers once again appeared poised to grab the lead, marching into Gator territory again. But Franklin overthrew a wide open receiver over the middle and Matt Elam intercepted Franklin at the 4-yard line and returned it 42 yards to the UF 46-yard line.
This time it was a game-changing turn of events.
The Gators appeared to take the lead on a 43-yard pass from Driskel to Frankie Hammond but a holding penalty negated the score. Two plays later, however, Driskel dumped off a short pass to Gillislee who weaved his way through the Missouri defense and into the end zone from 45 yards out to give Florida its first lead, 14-7, with 13:32 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Missouri mounted one last attempt. After the Tigers blocked a 25-yard field goal attempt by Brad Phillips, who replaced the ailing Sturgis, Missouri marched from its own 20 all the way down to the Gators’ 21-yard line. Facing a fourth-and-6 from the UF 21 with :11 remaining, Franklin threw his fourth and final pick into the end zone as Evans claimed the ball and secured the win for the Gators.
Franklin finished 24-of-51 passing for 236 yards but also the four costly interceptions. Missouri outgained Florida 335-276.
For the Gators, Driskel finished 12-of-23 passing for 106 yards and a touchdown pass. Gillislee had 68 yards on 16 yards to go along with his 45-yard touchdown reception.
The Gators remain at home next week and go back to the non-conference schedule after eight straight weeks of SEC play. Florida hosts Louisiana at 12:21 p.m. as part of homecoming.