TALLAHASSEE — After picking up a giant Gator flag and sprinting toward the south end zone of Doak Campbell Stadium, junior Florida defensive back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson dropped the orange and blue prop, picked up a mask with warpaint on it and leapt into the stands to celebrate with cheering, chanting Florida fans.
“They deserved it,” he said. “They’ve got their bragging rights now. The streak is over.”
Yes, it is. Vanquished. And not just one streak, but three — the five-game losing streak to Florida State, the Seminoles’ long bowl streak, which comes to an end at 36 consecutive years and handed FSU its first losing season since 1976, which was Bobby Bowden’s first season as head coach.
The Florida Gators busted all three Saturday with a convincing 41-14 rout of the Seminoles before 71,953.
“Great, great team win for us today,” UF coach Dan Mullen said. “We wanted to play our best offense, defense, kicking game of the year and execute. As we talked about through the year, we wanted to get better and better and better and better as the year goes on and play a complete game. I really think we did.
“It’s huge. To finish off (the season) getting a win over your rival in year one is huge.”
It was a total team victory that moves the Gators to 9-3 on the season and puts them in a position to possibly play in a prestigious New Year’s Six bowl game in Mullen’s first season.
“Absolutely,” Gardner-Johnson said, when asked if the Gators deserved to be in a New Year’s Six bowl game. “We were playing to become a New Year’s Six bowl team. We’re planning to be a top-10 team in the country (at the end of the season). We came out with a chip on our shoulder. We were going to do what we had to do.”
The Gators certainly looked and played like a potential top-10 team Saturday.
Feleipe Franks threw for 254 yards and three touchdowns and the Gators piled up 536 total yards (UF’s third consecutive 500-yard game), including 282 on the ground, 129 by junior running back Lamical Perine, who had a 74-yard scoring run in the first half.
It was perhaps the best game of Franks’ UF career.
“I just think he got comfortable and in the flow of the game,” Mullen said. “He did a great job. He didn’t make mistakes and he executed well.”
The same could be said of the defense.
The Gators held FSU to 293 total yards and 15 first downs, while sacking FSU quarterback Deondre Francois five times and coming up with three turnovers — one fumble (caused by Jachai Polite on a sack of Francois) and two interceptions (by Trey Dean and Donovan Stiner).
Overall, the Gators played the way they expected to, Gardner-Johnson said.
“We weren’t worried about this game,” he said. “We knew we were the better team.”
The Gators only led 13-7 at the half, but started pulling away with two Franks touchdown passes in the third quarter — one a three-yarder to Josh Hammond and the other a 22-yarder to Trevon Grimes.
FSU cut the deficit to 27-14 on a four-yard run by Francois, but UF answered with a 38-yard TD pass from Franks to Van Jefferson on the first play of the fourth quarter. The Gators ended any doubt with a nine-yard TD run by Jordan Scarlett with 3:53 left in the game.
It all led to another victory celebration in the postgame locker room, something the Gators have now done nine times this season.
“They’re finding themselves,” Mullen said of the players. “You’ve got a team that went 4-7 last year, with a new coach, a new program, a new way of doing things.
“The guys are really learning what we expect out of them in this new program.”
Not only were the Gators celebrating the end of a five-game losing streak to the Seminoles on Saturday, they were feeling pretty good about denying FSU a bowl game, something the ‘Noles did to them last season.
“Last year, they sent us home,” Gardner-Johnson said. “We couldn’t play in a bowl game and had to watch them play in one. We knew, ‘Listen, we can do the same thing they did to us last year if we go in there and grind it out.’ That’s what we did.”
The Seminoles finish their first season under Willie Taggart at 5-7 and no bowl game.
“It was really tough because of what was at stake,” Taggart said of the FSU postgame locker room. “Nobody in that locker room wanted to be part of that team that breaks the bowl streak.
“A lot of tears and a lot of guys were hurting. We wanted to get it done and we didn’t. It’s frustrating, disappointing, and guys are hurting.”
What: Selection Day for College Football Playoff Committee with final ranking, bowl pairings
When: Noon-4 p.m. Dec. 2