Following South Carolina punter Kai Kroger’s kick of just 28 yards, Florida QB Graham Mertz walked into the huddle calm and poised to win the ballgame. The Gators trailed 37-34 with just 2:43 remaining.
The drive started with three straight incompletions before a critical fourth down conversion where Mertz appeared to just throw it up for his favorite target, Ricky Pearsall. Pearsall made the adjustment and came down with the grab for a 26 yard gain and breathed life back into the offense.
With South Carolina expecting the Gators to throw, head coach Billy Napier drew up a run by Montrell Johnson that gained 11 yards and put Florida in Trey Smack’s field goal range.
But the Gators weren’t looking to tie the game. Mertz was determined to lead his team to the end zone. Three plays later, he did just that with a bullet of a pass to Pearsall in the endzone to put Florida ahead, 41-37.
Won Shining Moment 🐊 pic.twitter.com/JE0hOCY11d— Florida Gators Football (@GatorsFB) October 14, 2023
The game opened at a feverish pace with the two teams combining for twenty-four points in the first quarter of action. The Gators led off with a nine play, 66-yard drive that resulted in a Trevor Etienne touchdown run.
The Gators took a 24-21 lead into the halftime break, but it was still anyone’s game at that point.
The third quarter was relatively uneventful with the defenses seeming to settle in, each team managed just a field goal on the scoreboard, though Carolina entered the fourth period on the UF 3-yard line and managed to score the first play of the final frame to take a 31-27 lead.
USC added to its lead with a 33-yard catch and run by Joshua Simon that increased the lead to ten (due to a blocked PAT), 37-27.
The Gators moved to within a field goal on an Arlis Boardingham touchdown with 4:40 remaining on the clock. Two plays earlier, Napier showed his belief in his offense, going for it on 4th and 1 from the seven yard line despite his team’s need for ten points. Montrell Johnson picked up three yards to set up the score.
For the game, Mertz went 30/48 for 423 yards and three touchdowns with no turnovers. Pearsall finished with 166 yards on ten receptions. Eugene Wilson added 83 yards in the passing game.
The Florida defense had a rough day, however. South Carolina accumulated 465 yards of offense, including 313 in the air. SC QB Spencer Rattler completed 77% of his attempts and tossed just one interception, his last throw, a prayer deep downfield into double coverage.
Florida moves to 5-2 overall and 3-1 in SEC play as they head into the bye week. The Gators will then face rival Georgia in Jacksonville on October 28th.