Emotional finish for Gators

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Florida running back Kadarius Toney (4) leaps toward the end zone against Michigan defensive back Lavert Hill (24) during the first half of the Peach Bowl NCAA college football game, Saturday, Dec. 29, 2018, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

ATLANTA — Moments after he had returned an interception for a dagger of a touchdown, Florida junior Chauncey Gardner-Johnson sat on the bench with tears rolling down his cheek.

A few minutes later, quarterback Feleipe Franks had been taken out of the game and was down the bench aways, a dirty Gatorade towel draped over his head as he openly wept.

Then there was senior CeCe Jefferson, who went down on one knee in the middle of the field and began to cry as the celebration took place around him.

It was an emotional day for the No. 10 Florida Gators football team at the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl where they throttled No. 7 Michigan 41-15 in front of a split crowd of 74,006 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

“I was thinking, ‘I’m just not ready for it to be done yet,’ ” Jefferson said. “It was 50-50, tears of joy and also tears of sorrow cause I’m not going to be playing with these guys anymore. Mostly, tears of joy.”

The Gators, who had lost their only four games in history against Michigan and had never won a New Year’s Six, put together a dominant performance to complete a turnaround from a 4-7 record last year to 10-3 and probably a top-10 ranking when the last media polls come out.

Franks had an efficient day both running and throwing the ball, even checking into the quarterback draw play that resulted in a 20-yard touchdown run.

Another draw play, on third-and-20, went for a 53-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter by running back Lamical Perine that basically put the game out of reach.

“To know where we were and know where we are today,” said Florida coach Dan Mullen, “it’s pretty special. These guys got to walk off the field as champions. It says so right here.”

Mullen held up a black T-shirt the players — with champions in big letters — and staff received for the win.

“It’s a great feeling, tears of joy,” said Franks, the offensive MVP of the game. “I always wanted to be in the middle of confetti falling down on me, winning championships. Coach Mullen is bringing that back to Florida.”

15 COMMENTS

    • You hit the nail on the head! Emotionally invested, playing with heart and soul! Only a GREAT coach can get players to that level and when they reached the top they couldnt hold it back. Thats a rare sight to see, that many players, emotionally overwhelmed after a win! That was special, really special! We have a bright future, a special future with this coach. We are very fortunate and better enjoy it while it lasts.

  1. This past Spring and Summer was about buying into the system….this next Spring and Summer will be about holding the standard they reached, and raising the bar. It’s the only way to maintain excellence over the span of a decade and beyond.

  2. I certainly understand how the team felt about this game and about this season. They have endured a ton of adversity and have risen up like champions and taken the prize with no uncertainty. This was a very powerful statement about a Gator football team that has tremendous heart and courage. I have been a Gator fan for over 50 years. This team goes down as one of the best because they overcame adversity and turned lemons into pure gold. GO GATORS!!!