Quarterback Christian Ponder played as efficiently as he had all season in a game that meant everything to Seminole Nation. The result was a 31-7 stomping over Florida to snap a dreaded six-year losing streak to their in-state rivals in front of a boisterous crowd of 82,324.
Ponder completed 16 of 24 passes for three touchdowns and no interceptions, getting his first-ever win against Florida. His fine performance combined with four forced turnovers by an opportunistic defense secured state bragging rights for at least the next year. Ponder had not thrown a pick in three of his last four games, and his passing yardage was his third-most this season.
The defensive unit was as stout as it could possibly be against a bitter rival, shutting down the Gators through the air. The Gators (7-5, 4-4) mustered only 64 yards passing, but amassed 212 yards on the ground. Florida finished the game with five fumbles, losing three of them in key situations.
Sophomore safety Nick Moody led the Seminoles with eight tackles in a big-hitting performance, also forcing a fumble. Nigel Bradham and Markus White added six tackles apiece, while Brandon Jenkins recorded two sacks to reach 12 on the season. Cornerback Mike Harris had the team's lone interception.
Also playing a vital role in tonight's win was the leg of punter Shawn Powell, who drove three punts inside the 20-yard line to force long drives by a depleted Gator offense. Florida quarterback Jordan Reed managed 74 yards on 13 carries, while Chris Rainey added 73 yards on 11 tries. The receiving core was stagnant all evening, with Rainey leading the unit with 25 yards on four catches.
Florida State struck first on its first drive of the game, using seven plays to drive 46 yards in 2:22. The drive ended when Dustin Hopkins nailed a 38-yard field goal to put the Seminoles (9-3, 6-2) ahead early 3-0. A 62-yard subsequent kickoff return by Andre Debose put the Gators at FSU's 32-yard line. Five plays later, quarterback John Brantley found a wide-open Robert Clark for a 20-yard score, putting the Gators on top at 7-3. The drive took only 1:46 courtesy of the advantageous field position.
Florida was stopped on a third and 11 at its 15 yard line, but its possession was extended by a personal foul on FSU's Terrance Parks. The Seminoles regained momentum when Reed was stripped on a rush, which was recovered by FSU's Xavier Rhodes. On Florida's next possession, Rhodes recovered another fumble by Reed, which was forced by cornerback Greg Reid at the Florida 17. Two plays later, tailback Lonnie Pryor ran up the middle for a nine-yard score, his seventh offensive touchdown of the season.
After the Gators were stopped on a third and five, punter Chas Henry faked a punt, but his rush was stopped short on a textbook tackle from Ochucko Jenije. After FSU took over on the turnover, Ponder found Smith down the right sideline for a 39-yard score, Smith's longest receiving score of the season.
Ponder connected with Easterling on a 15-yard slant pass over the middle for a touchdown, making it 24-7 with 2:47 before halftime. The meticulous drive consisted of 12 plays and 73 yards in 6:01. The play was made after Ponder had several seconds of solid protection, giving Easterling his fourth touchdown of the season. It was also Ponder's sixth game this season in which he has thrown multiple touchdown passes.
Harris picked off a Brantley pass intended for DeBose at the FSU 7, Harris' third interception of the season. The turnover was Florida's third of the half.
FSU's 24-7 lead at halftime marked just the third time in the 55-game series that the Seminoles have held as big as a 17-point lead through the first two quarters. FSU outgained the Gators in yardage, 193-187, and held a sizeable 142-32 advantage in the passing game through halftime. FSU finished with 333 yards of total offense compared to UF's 276.
The third quarter began in promising fashion, with Ponder throwing his third TD pass of the game to wide receiver Willie Haulstead for a 29-yard gain. It was a 10-play drive that took some time off the clock, marking Haulstead's team-leading sixth touchdown of the season to give the Seminoles a 31-7 lead.
Another red zone turnover was forced by the Seminoles. Trey Burton rushed to the right side before Dan Hicks forced a fumble that was recovered for a possible scoop and score, but the play was blown dead as soon as Parks picked up the ball. Replay review showed Burton lost control of the ball before his knee landed, causing an overturn.