The Florida State Seminoles were looking to end the season on a four-game win streak during the highly anticipated matchup against the Florida Gators. FSU’s in-state bout carried a heavy weight on Noles bowl projections and national perception, fighting under the bright lights for the chance at a 9-win regular season.
In more ways than one, it was a vital game for the Noles and they delivered with a 45-38 victory. The defense struggled to contain Florida for most of the matchup, but came up clutch when it needed to in order to deliver a win.
The Gators were awarded the ball at the 44-yard line after a fumble from Ontaria Wilson on offense. Florida elected to go for a fourth and two after they were unsuccessful on an Anthony Richardson run and they met a flurry of Seminole defenders that were there to stop the gain. The Noles put the Gators offense back on the sideline after a three-and-out.
After a massive punt return from the Gators, Richardson connected with a receiver on a 52-yard gain in the very first play. The score was tied 7-7 with 11:14 left in the first quarter. The atmosphere seems to spurt some uncomfortable nerves into Florida State, having trouble with communication and overall technique.
Head coach Mike Norvell decided to roll the dice and go for it on fourth and two, which didn’t prove to be the right choice for the Noles. The Gators got the ball at the 37 and pounced on FSU the very first play. Florida State allowed a 22-yard gain to put Florida inside Seminole's territory. Richardson had a short run for the Gators and went down with an apparent injury.
With Florida’s backup in the game, the Gators were treating the matchup like a track meet. They handed the ball to a well-equipped running back room and it was the Noles’ problem to find the tackle. Florida State seemed lost on the defensive end, giving up an easy touchdown to the Gators' tight end. FSU was down 14-7 with 4:06 left in the quarter.
The Noles were able to push the ball downfield and tie the game at 14. When FSU’s defense hit the gridiron they seemed to have the same issues as previous drives. Florida State was daring UF to throw the ball, but they seemed to have a man open every play. The Gators' receivers were getting great separation, while their running backs bulldozed their way on either side of the field.
On the very first play of the second half, defensive back Jarrian Jones intercepted the ball from Richardson, handing the Noles offense a new opportunity. Jones had perfect position throughout the play, moving his receiver to the exact spot he wanted.
Florida State’s defense took the field after a missed field goal that could have put the Seminoles in the lead. The ball was on Florida’s court, eyeing another score to give them the edge. They seemed to be in the driver's seat with running back Trevor Etienne taking advantage of wide gaps made from the Gators' offensive line.
Etienne led the way for Florida, and wide receiver Ricky Pearsall was constantly throwing down the lob from Richardson. The Gators took the lead in this drive after back-to-back gains of 30 or more yards from that connection. Florida had a 21-14 lead with 9:25 left in the half.
Travis put on another magic show for the Noles, and the game was tied at 21. Yet, Florida State was giving up 30.2 yards per completion. It was another big gain from the Gators on the first play, banking in a 16-yard run that gave Florida a first down. A couple of plays later they earned a 13-yard run to get another first. The Noles’ defensive line seemed absent, and when the blitz came in, their secondary was consistently dropping the case to head to the sideline.
Florida attempted a third-and-seven run and was yet again successful with Etienne. The Gators' offense could pick a play out of a hat that would somehow convert on the Seminoles' defense; they were simply getting every gain they wanted. Despite miscues from the Seminoles' defense they were able to hold Florida to a field goal. The Gators were ahead 24-21 with 42 seconds left in the first half.
The Seminoles entered the locker room down 24-21 with an abysmal showing from their defense. They allowed 130 yards on the ground and 151 passing yards on just 10 attempts. The defense was flat-out confused with terrible doses of miscommunication throughout the half.
Florida State forced an elusive three-and-out against the Gators on the first play of the second half. They were visibly blitzing and clogging the box to try and speed up Florida’s offense. With 8:53 remaining in the third quarter, the Noles tied the game at 24 all.
The Seminoles' defense made necessary adjustments to temporarily stop the Gators' offense, forcing another three-and-out. They had a beautiful pass deflection from Jones and found their way to stopping Richardson with a sack on third down. The Noles punched in a touchdown to take the lead with under five minutes remaining in the third quarter.
Safety Shyheim Brown was the savior for the Noles with a pass breakup to let the defense settle down on the sideline. FSU’s defense was playing the middle game, being ready for the run, while having help outside to stop a big drive in the air. The breather didn’t last too long after FSU scored another touchdown to take a 38-24 lead.
The Gators didn’t seem to be rattled after they notched a 35-yard run early in the drive. Brown deflected a Richardson pass to put Florida in the end zone, but Richardson followed that with a monster truck run over the Noles’ entire defense. Defensive end Jared Verse got a much-needed QB hit at the beginning of the fourth quarter, causing a third and twelve attempt from Florida.
Verse was responsible for an offsides call that was massive for the Gators' drive. Florida was able to juice every yard they could get to have a fourth and one opportunity. They opened a generous gap for their running back to give them the first down and more. Florida knocked in a touchdown after a treacherous drive for the Noles’ defense.
The drive from the Gators lasted just under seven minutes, burning vital time for both squads. Florida State led 38-31 with 10:35 left in the fourth. It was extremely important for the offense to stay on the field and give the Seminoles' defense rest with a lot of game left on the clock. FSU’s defense was already having trouble, and they didn’t look to have much left in the tank with time bleeding out.
That wasn’t the case as the Seminoles played an empty drive with a three-and-out. Florida had the momentum with under 10 minutes left in the game. They were given excellent field position, starting their attempt to tie the game at the 50-yard line. A colossal third down stood in front of the Noles with a chance to stuff the Gators.
Florida put up the peace sign to the Seminoles with a perfectly drawn run that led to a 45-yard touchdown from Etienne. The game was tied at 38 with eight minutes remaining. FSU put seven more points on the board to give themselves the lead with four minutes left.
UF was able to get a pass over the top to Pearsall, but a flag put them back on the line of scrimmage. With 2:16 on the clock, the Gators were trying to convert on a third and eight attempt. They were pushed back after a holding call, forcing them to go for it on fourth and eighteen. While Florida was unable to catch the pass, the Gators were given a pass interference call that gave them another chance with a first down in their hands.
Florida State handed the Gators a couple of passes that put them in Seminoles territory and Richardson’s legs were able to keep that ball rolling. The sticks were moving fast against the Noles. Florida called their final timeout with one minute left in the game and a scoring opportunity within the 25-yard line.
While the Gators seemed to be marching down a wall, they were hurt by an illegal block in the back penalty. The Seminoles were stuffing the box against Florida’s running backs and Richardson, which was ultimately the cause of victory for Florida State. Defensive back Jammie Robinson got to the quarterback and the rest was history. The Noles knocked off the Gators 45-38 to win the state championship.
Standout players from FSU vs. UF
Defensive back Jammie Robinson
The star safety had 10 tackles for the Noles, working as a safety blanket yet again. There were plays that could have led to big gains for the Gators and Robinson was constantly there to stop those attempts.
Defensive end Derrick McLendon
McLendon was all over the field for Florida State. He made plays in each quarter for the Noles, even when FSU was desperately looking for an answer. The defensive end recorded half a sack, half a tackle for loss, one QB hit, and five total tackles.
Defensive back Jarrian Jones
Jarrian Jones was the lead coverage man in tonight’s game. He was able to snag an interception from the Gators, with the addition of one pass breakup and two tackles. Jones was the unsung hero for the Noles.
Safety Shyheim Brown
Florida State was left without Akeem Dent in the starting lineup and Shyheim Brown’s name was called. He was electric for the Noles, stopping Florida’s shot at building momentum multiple times. Brown finished the game with half a sack, half a tackle for loss, two QB hits, and seven total tackles.
Defensive end Jared Verse
The first-year Nole held a lot of the Gators attention, earning open looks for the linebackers and safeties. He was the energizer for FSU, rushing Richardson out of the pocket on countless occasions. Verse had half a sack and two QB hits on the night.