One step forward, two blocks back for Gators

Forty seconds stood between the Florida Gators and a grind it out, tough win over the South Carolina Gamecocks. All the Gators had to do was punt the football away and they would have walked away with their third straight win. Considering South Carolina hadn’t blocked a punt all year, this one was all but in the bag.

Except for one thing.

Carlton Heard went straight up the middle, blocked Kyle Christy’s punt and South Carolina recovered at the Florida 34. Still, there were only 39 seconds left and since South Carolina had done nothing offensively in the second half, a win still seemed imminent.

Oh, to have those 39 seconds back.

In those final 39 seconds of regulation, South Carolina tied the game up, then went on to win in the first overtime, scoring the winning touchdown on an unlikely 4-yard Dylan Thompson touchdown run around the left side to give the Gamecocks a 23-20 win. Of all the 20 losses in the Will Muschamp era at the University of Florida, this one has to go down as the cruelest of all.

“We put ourselves in a position to win the game,” Muschamp said in his post game remarks. “We don’t get the punt blocked we win the game.”

The blocked punt was the second special teams breakdown in the fourth quarter for the Gators. With 3:31 remaining, Frankie Velez came on to try a 32-yard field goal that would have extended Florida’s lead to 20-10 except that Brison Williams burst through the line off the left side and got a hand on the ball.

That play wouldn’t have mattered if the Gators could have converted a first down on their next possession. On third and three from the Florida 48, Treon Harris was nailed for a 5-yard loss that forced the Gators to bring on the punting unit.

“That was the first time we blocked a punt all year,” said South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier as he left the field after the win. “We blocked a couple of field goals but that was the first punt.”

The special teams miscues offset a methodical come from behind performance that saw the Gators (5-4, 4-4 SEC) dig their way out of a 10-0 hole in the first quarter to 39 seconds away from a victory that would have made them bowl eligible. After giving up an 85-yard touchdown drive on the Gamecocks’ first possession and a 15-play, 66-yard drive that resulted in a field goal on the next possession, Florida settled in and dominated quarters three and four along with most of the fourth.

The Gators got the 10 points back in the second quarter, driving 46 yards for a field goal, then tying the game up on a Harris to Demarcus Robinson touchdown pass with 24 seconds remaining in the first half to cap a 5-play, 50-yard drive.

In the third quarter, the Gators pounded out a 10-play, 71-yard scoring drive that was highlighted by a 32-yard Harris to Latroy Pittman pass and a 22-yard run by Harris that took the ball to the South Carolina one. From there, Matt Jones got the ball into the end zone as the Gators took their first lead of the game, 17-10.

Florida’s defense totally dominated the fourth quarter until the final 39 seconds. Prior to the blocked punt, the Gators held South Carolina on a fourth and one to take over at the South Carolina 49, forced a punt and came up with another fourth down stop at the Florida 41 with 2:22 to go in the game.

Then came the final 39 seconds and an unlikely touchdown by South Carolina. On first down at the UF 34, the Gators forced Thompson to scramble to his left, but he found Mike Davis free down the sideline and the play turned into a 27-yard gain to the UF seven. A pass interference call gave the Gamecocks the ball on the Florida two and after an incomplete pass, Thompson ran the left side on the option. His pitch hit Davis in the facemask but it was a clean bounce that Davis pounced on in the end zone for the touchdown. Fry came on to kick the extra point to tied the game and send it to overtime.

In overtime, the Gators got eight yards on first down but the next two plays netted -1 to force another field goal. Muschamp sent on Austin Hardin instead of Velez and the result was a 35-yard field goal that gave the Gators a 20-17 lead.

On South Carolina’s possession, the Gamecocks went with five running plays and a single pass to set up a first and goal at the UF four. Thompson fooled everyone when he pulled the ball out of the belly of Davis and went left to go untouched into the end zone for the win that ended a four-game SEC losing streak for the Gamecocks (5-5, 3-5 SEC).

The loss finished off the SEC portion of the schedule for Florida, which has a non-conference game with Division IAA Eastern Kentucky in Gainesville next week and a trip to Tallahassee to face FSU Thanksgiving weekend.


SOUTH CAROLINA 7, FLORIDA 0: The Gamecocks took the opening kickoff and went 85 yards in eight plays, taking three minutes off the clock to open up a 7-0 lead. On the drive, Dylan Thompson completed passes of 30 yards to Pharoh Cooper and 20 to Rory Anderson, but the touchdown came on a Brandon Wilds 20-yard sprint into the end zone with 12:00 remaining in the quarter. Elliot Fry came on to add the extra point.

SOUTH CAROLINA 10, FLORIDA 0: The Gamecocks’ second possession was textbook ball control as they ate up 8:22 off the clock, taking 15 plays to go 66 yards with Elliot Fry finishing things off with a 32-yard field goal with 2:15 left in the quarter. The drive should have been stopped at the South Carolina 41 when Spurrier elected to go for it on fourth down only to see Brandon Wilds stuffed for a yard loss. But instead of taking over on the plus side of the field, Dante Fowler Jr. was flagged for a facemask and the 15-yard penalty gave South Carolina new life. The longest play from scrimmage on the drive was a 7-yard completion from Thompson to Anderson. Thompson was 5-6 throwing the ball on the drive for 30 yards.


FLORIDA 3, SOUTH CAROLINA 10: The Gators finally got something going on offense after a short South Carolina punt gave them good starting field position at the UF 37. Florida ran the ball seven straight plays to move the ball to the South Carolina 20 where third and five became third and 10 when D.J. Humphries was flagged for a false start. Treon Harris got eight on the next play, but the Gators had to settle for a 34-yard field goal by Frankie Velez with 6:37 left to get on the board. On the 9-play, 46-yard scoring drive, the Gators got a 16-yard quarterback draw from Harris and an 11-yard gainer from Matt Jones.

FLORIDA 10, SOUTH CAROLINA 10: The Gators tied the game at 10-10 on a Harris to Demarcus Robinson touchdown pass from 11 yards out with 24 seconds left in the half to cap a 5-play, 50-yard scoring drive. The key play on the drive was a pass interference call against the Gamecocks that gave the Gators a first down at the South Carolina 24. Following an 8-yard gain on a quarterback draw by Harris and a 5-yard run up the gut for a first down by Jones, Harris hit Robinson in stride for the touchdown. Velez tied the game with the extra point.


FLORIDA 17, SOUTH CAROLINA 10: Following a 47-yard missed field goal by Fry, the Gators took over at their own 29 and drive 71 yards in 10 plays, taking the lead on a 1-yard run by Jones with 1:56 left in the quarter. Florida had to overcome a near disaster when Harris was hit and spun around backward while throwing the ball. Tevin Westbrook came up with the football in the ensuing scramble at the UF 35 to give the Gators new life. Given a second chance, Harris led the Gators the remaining 65 yards, accounting for 54 on two plays, a 32-yard pass to Latroy Pittman and a 22-yard run off the left side that got the ball to the South Carolina one. From there, Matt Jones pounded it in for the score to give the Gators their first lead of the day. Velez made it 17-10 with the extra point.


SOUTH CAROLINA 17, FLORIDA 17: The Gamecocks were dead in the water with less than two minutes to go when Carlton Heard blocked Kyle Christy’s punt and Jasper Sasser recovered all the way back at the Florida 34. On first down, the Gators were ever so close to a sack when Thompson escaped to the left side and found Mike Davis free down the sideline for what turned into a 27-yard gain to the UF seven. A pass interference call against Brian Poole gave the Gamecocks a first down at the Florida two. On second down, the Gamecocks ran the option but Thompson’s pitch hit Davis in the facemask but the ball bounced into the end zone where Davis recovered for a touchdown with 12 seconds left in regulation. Fry’s extra point tied it and sent the game into overtime.


FLORIDA 20, SOUTH CAROLINA 17: Harris gained eight yards on first down, but lost a yard on second and his third down throw to Robinson went for no gain, forcing a field goal attempt. Instead of Velez, whose last field goal attempt was blocked, Austin Hardin was brought on and the move paid off with a 35-yarder that just barely sneaked in on the right goal post.

SOUTH CAROLINA 23, FLORIDA 20: The Gamecocks needed seven plays to get the game-winning touchdown, a 4-yard run around the let side by Thompson, who went into the end zone untouched. South Carolina kept the ball on the ground for six of the seven plays, but the one pass was critical. On second and seven from the Florida 11, Thompson flipped the ball out in the left flat to Cooper who was wrestled out of bounds at the six. After David Williams got the first down on a power play up the middle, Thompson fooled everyone by going around the left side for the win.

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