Just like earlier games against Tennessee and Kentucky, it looked like the Cardiac Kids were back at it again Saturday, working on another inspiring second-half rally that would lead to a scary but satisfying victory in the fourth quarter for the Florida Gators.
It was all right there in front of them.
And then it wasn’t. Just like that, with one errant swing of Eddy Pineiro’s talented right leg, the plug was pulled on this comeback.
Pineiro’s missed extra point with 1:45 remaining in the third quarter was the difference in a numbing 17-16 loss to a hungry and highly motivated LSU team before a homecoming crowd of 88,247 in The Swamp.
“It hurts, and it’s a tough one to swallow,” UF coach Jim McElwain said. “It looked like the snap (on the PAT) wasn’t great. I don’t know. We’ve got to see it on film. I didn’t see the replay of it. That’s why they don’t give you the automatic one. They force you to kick it.
“For our guys, for this Gator team, it hurts. Guys are hurting in that locker. And they should hurt. That’s the nature of the beast.”
The No. 21 Gators fall to 3-2 overall and 3-1 in the SEC. LSU improves to 4-2 and 1-1.
McElwain said the wide-left PAT attempt was not necessarily deflating and game changing. But it was. The numbers bear it out.
Florida’s stats the rest of the game reflect momentum lost. Complete momentum lost. After Pineiro’s miss, the Gators had nothing left offensively. They made only one first down and produced 37 total yards in the fourth quarter — and never came close to pulling this one out in the closing seconds like they did against the Vols and Wildcats.
“It hurts,” junior offensive tackle Martez Ivey said. “I’m hurt.”
It didn’t look like this was going to turn into a painful loss for the Gators the way they rallied in the third quarter.
After going down by 14 points, 17-3, early in the quarter, the Gators sprang to life, launching back-to-back touchdown drives that seemed to put Florida — its crazy-loud crowd — in control of the game.
The first drive culminated with a two-yard TD run by Lamical Perine. The second TD, a one-yard run by Perine, put the Gators in a position to tie the game — and hold onto all the moment they had generated with their two-touchdown rally.
But the snap on the PAT was less than perfect, same with the hold, and Pineiro’s kicked squirted left of the upright.
It was a different game the rest of the way.
“I don’t think (it was deflating),” McElwain said of the missed PAT. “The defense responded. We just came up empty with two series on offense. And the way they were snapping the ball late in the shot clock, we knew our possessions were not going to be that many. We had to make something happen on those and we didn’t.
“Our guys played hard, gave ourselves an opportunity to win the game and we ended up not winning. Credit to them for controlling it there in the end and winning. That’s life in the SEC.”
After getting a defensive stop with a little more than four minutes remaining in the game, the Gators were in a position to possibly win it with a field goal or touchdown.
Backed up on their own 4-yard line with 4:01 to play, it would have taken some big plays or magic, or both — and the Gators had neither.
Facing a fourth-and-three from the 25, quarterback Feleipe Franks’ pass over the middle for slot receiver Brandon Powell was tipped by LSU cornerback Donte Jackson and fell incomplete.
The Tigers ran out the remaining 1:39 to secure the win and avenge last year’s 16-10 Florida win in Baton Rouge.
It was a tough day all-around for Franks, who completed 10 of 16 passes for only 108 yards. With his go-to receiver (Tyrie Cleveland) out with a high ankle sprain, the Gators produced close to nothing in the downfield passing game.
Other than those two TD drives in the third quarter, the offense was not clutch, converting only two of nine third downs.
“First and foremost, my hat’s off to the way (LSU) rallied and played a real physical ball game,” McElwain said. “They came in and got after us on the line of scrimmage. I think when we go back, I think we’re going to find out really the difference in the game was third downs. You guys saw it. There’s no denying that at all.”
Franks said he and the Gators will recover from the tough loss.
“We have a long season ahead of us and I don’t think you can let one or two losses define us,” Franks said. “This is one loss. You can’t let it define you.”
While the Gators endured a tough loss, the Tigers were celebrating a big win in The Swamp coming off an upset loss at home to Troy that had many doubting the players and the coaches in the state of Louisiana.
“It was a tough week, but we believed in each other and got back to work,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said. “I’m so proud of our team. No one blinked.
“This team made the decision on Monday that they were going to win this football game under any circumstances, and we did that.”
Who: Texas A&M vs. No. 21 Florida
When: Saturday, time TBA
Where: Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850