The return of the gators, Part 2
So Part one ended with the Gators clinching the East division of the SEC. However, the second part of this story isn’t as hopeful as the first part. A lot of people say, it’s not how you start, but how you finish; and the Gators finished soft. Riddled with injuries and suspensions, the Gators fought their way through the second half of their schedule on fumes. The regression of the team didn’t stop me from enjoying every bit of it, well almost every bit, but I’ll get to that later.
Florida vs South Carolina
Their season resumed by playing against South Carolina at home. I mentioned in part one, that this is typically a fun game to watch because it’s against my favorite coach and one of the best players Florida has ever had. However, Steve Spurrier stepped down before this game so I wasn’t as excited as usual. The Gators still needed the victory though to stay in contention for the playoffs. It was a sloppy game and you could watch the Gators quarterback (Harris) slowly regress back to his old ways of feeling pressured early and running for his life. He made some bad decisions that could have been worse if the receivers weren’t playing well. The first half belonged to Sophomore Jordan Cronkrite; who stole what should have been an interception, but instead turned it into a 41 yard touchdown.
The Gators looked to be in good shape with a 17-0 lead going into the 4th quarter, but somehow the Gamecocks closed the gap to 3. With just over two and a half minutes left, Kelvin Taylor ripped one up the gut for 53 yards where he got caught at the one yard line. He’ll ultimately run it in on the next play to seal the Gators victory 24-14. Even though it wasn’t pretty, they still found a way to win.
Florida vs Florida Atlantic
The Gators, now 10-1 and moving up in the ranks from 11 to 8 after the South Carolina win now had to take on in-state Florida Atlantic University. This game is always special for me to watch, because FAU is where I started my college career. The school was so new when I went there that the football program was only four years old and their first year in Division 1-A. Legendary coach Howard Schnellenberger, who won a national championship with the Hurricanes and was part of the 1972 undefeated Dolphins, was the coach at the time. He’s since retired, but it’s still fun to follow my first school; especially if they’re playing the Gators.
The one thing that is special about this game is the in-state rivalry. It’s pretty well-known that Florida produces a lot of talent in football, but with so many great Universities within the state, recruiting is tough. I don’t remember the exact numbers, but this game consisted of approximately 44 players that played against each other in high school between 12 schools. Needless to say there was a bit of trash talking. The Gators were 31 point favorites and should have made light of FAU.
That wasn’t the case. The game was SLOPPY! The first score came in the 3rd quarter when the Gators defense came up big, hitting Driskel (yes Driskel, our last disaster QB’s little brother) and knocking the ball loose for a pick up and run to the 2 yard line. Florida gets up 14-0, however FAU rallies back to tie it up. The lack of kicking game continued as Hardin missed a couple and Harris panicked which led to the ball going into the end zone and FAU scoring. This thing actually went to overtime.
By this time I’m sure I’ve thrown a few beer cans at the tv and let the neighbors know how I feel about Harris’s decision making. Luckily Harris ends up finding McGee for a touchdown, but the extra point was blocked. Typical. I could see it now, losing any hope for the playoffs because of a missed extra point. But the defense stepped it up and won the game on a batted down pass on 4th and goal.
Florida vs Florida State
Now the game everyone lives for: Florida against Florida State. Bragging rights for the year. There’s not many other in-state rivalries in college football that compare to UF/FSU. With only 150 miles separating the Universities, the two schools show up big no matter where they’re playing. This year the game was in Gainesville. So I took the beast and few friends to go tailgate for the game. I have a usual spot that I tailgate at, where I’ve never been troubled for staying over night. We left late Friday so we could just wake up in our spot and get going. It was the first time I had the TV available to be hooked up, which is a world of difference! The day was a blast; started off with a few morning beverages and messing around with the general public by glueing a dollar to the sidewalk. I don’t know why it’s so funny, but it’s something to do. The video is at the bottom (language warning).
After a full day of bbq, beer, and laughs, it was time to go in the game. The atmosphere was pumping and the swamp was loud! The Gators were ranked 13 and FSU 12 and we were looking to destroy FSU’s chances at having any hope for the playoffs. The Gators looked horrible. With so many injuries and Harris completely regressing back to his old ways, FSU dominated the game. Florida’s only score was off of some wonky play in the 4th quarter where the ball kept getting kicked around until it ended in the end zone and the Gators tackled Maguire and got a safety. FSU ended up winning 27-2 and I had to endure that long walk back to the van listening to that stupid chant song.
So that was pretty much it. The Gators went on to the SEC Championship Game and got beat by Alabama 29-15. Then went on to get completely destroyed by Michigan in the citrus bowl 41-7. Even though the Gators didn’t finish strong, their recruiting is looking phenomenal. With four new quarterbacks coming in next season, along with a new kicker, they should be setup for success. All in all I was so excited to not only be home for this season, but to see a whole new beginning for this program. It’s great to be a Florida Gator!