Fired-up Gators stage late rally for stunning win

Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks scores the game-winning 1-yard touchdown with 4:09 remaining in the game Saturday against South Carolina at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. [Lauren Bacho/Staff Photographer]

Somehow, someway, when maybe only a few thought it even remotely possible, the Florida Gators turned a looming disaster into one of the greatest comeback wins in school history Saturday in The Swamp.

Down 31-14 late in the third quarter, and unable to stop a potent South Carolina offense up to that point, the Gators managed to pick themselves up off the turf and take command over the game’s final 19 minutes, rallying for an improbable 35-31 victory over the Gamecocks before a raucous crowd of 82,696.

“We were never fazed when we were down,” redshirt sophomore quarterback Feleipe Franks said. “That’s one of the things I love about this team. We’re never fazed when we’re down, we never flinch.

“It’s all about competing, continuing to compete. That’s the mentality of our guys.”

Even when things appeared dire — when UF went down 14-0 early in the game and by 17 late in the third quarter — the Gators kept competing and fighting and finding a way to stay in the game and eventually win it with a 21-0 run to end the game.

“Great win for us,” UF coach Dan Mullen said. “Our guys kept battling. After a week ago (a 38-17 loss to Missouri), I said, ‘Let’s show everyone the team that we can be. Don’t dare take the field unless you expect to win the game.’

“You saw that today from a group of guys that expected to win the game for four quarters. Offense, defense, special teams, we made the plays we needed to make when we need to make them to win the game.

“Great mental toughness. Down 14-0 in the first half then down 17 late in the third quarter and to battle back and find a way to win was amazing for us.”

The victory ends UF’s two-game slump and moves the Gators to 7-3 overall and 5-3 in the SEC.

For so much of Saturday, it appeared the Gators were destined to lose their fourth game of the season, possibly by a lopsided margin.

But they refused to lose.

“We knew we were going to come back,” said running back Jordan Scarlett, who led a powerful UF ground game with 159 yards rushing. We’ve been in that situation before (trailing 21-3 at Vanderbilt a month ago and pulling out a win).

“It wasn’t like they’d been stopping us all game to the point we didn’t know what to do. We had plays, we were driving, we were executing. There was never any doubt in our minds. We just had to come together as a team.”

And they certainly did. After falling behind 31-14 with just 4:41 to play in the third quarter, the Gators hung together, kept competing, and started playing like the team they were earlier in the season in wins over LSU and Mississippi State.

The defense made key stops and camp up with a potential game-saving turnover (CJ Henderson’s interception with 3:21 to play). And the offense rolled up and down the field on the strength of the ground game, scoring three touchdowns over the game’s final 15:56.

The comeback started in the closing minute of the third quarter with an 18-yard touchdown pass from Franks to wide receiver Kadarius Toney that drew the Gators to within 10, 31-21.

Following a defensive stop, the offense, playing up-tempo, got rolling again, driving 89 yards for a touchdown, the score coming on a 23-yard run by Lamical Perine with 11:03 still left in the game.

Florida’s defense, which had given up some stunning big plays throughout the game, including an 89-yard pass play from quarterback Jake Bentley to wide receiver Deebo Samuel that set up the TD that put USC (5-4 and 4-4) up 31-14, responded with another stop.

And the offense then responded with another touchdown drive — the winning drive — that was set in motion with a 33-yard run by Toney. It ended with Franks diving into the end zone on a fourth-and-inches play with 4:09 remaining.

Mullen said there was never any doubt he was going for the touchdown on fourth down instead of settling for a game-tying field goal.

“That was an easy decision,” he said. “We wanted to win the game.”

And the Gators did. Somehow, someway.

“We talked about coming here as a team that gives relentless effort in everything we did,” Mullen said. “I think we played that way today. We got a little bit back to our identity.

“Are all our problems fixed? No, but we get to fix them with a smile on our face. Last week we had to fix them with a frown on our face.

“To see our guys come back and compete and have that energy in the stadium, all that together, is going to help push us ultimately to where we want to get to, which is back competing for championships on a consistent basis.”

For much of Saturday, the Gators did not play like champions. Not even close. But when they had to, they did.

“It’s all about the winning mentality,” said Franks, who threw for 161 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 36 yards and two TDs. “All our guys have that and that’s the kind of team I want to play for.”

Up next

Who: Idaho Vandals (4-6) vs. No. 19 Florida (7-3)

When: 12 p.m. Saturday

Where: Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium


Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850


    • That’s why i can’t stand the boo-birds. Franks has always been an effort player. For better or worse, he’s out there trying, and whatever the outcome, that deserves a classier response from the fans that what he’s been getting.

          • Yes, it is their prerogative to boo. The fans are paying a lot of money to go to games. However, this isn’t a professional team with a bunch of millionaires. I understand they receive valuable scholarships, but they are college kids who play with a lot of emotion. Over the course of the season they are on a emotional roller coaster. Last week the roller coaster was going down. This week it’s pointing straight up. This team has a razor thin margin when it comes to winning. Booing certainly doesn’t help recruiting and the future of Florida football hangs in the balance based on who they get to sign.

          • It being a “right” doesn’t make it right. I thought the boos sucked. This is college. We have a lot of rights in this country we should keep in the closet some times.

  1. hopefully the team had some sort of a leap in there, where it just decided losing to inferior opponents can no longer be tolerated. i hope so, that all started with champ and i think is why there were so many empty seats, as a reminder to champ the effect of losing on the gator nation. to say you lose you get fired is only from his perspective, from our perspective, losing to teams like Georgia southern have cost this program tens of millions of dollars, and like it or not, college football has a business aspect to it. if we finally are over that hump, we are going to be having a lot more fun and not have to be as worried at the business cost of empty seats, bad tv ratings from the games being turned off halfway through, and the players can make more in the nfl in their first contract.

  2. So Mullen told his players not to come onto the field if they didn’t expect to win; I wonder what would have happened had the AD told GatorSports not to come into the press box under the same condition?

    I guess for one thing, we wouldn’t be reading these nifty, first hand stories! 😜

  3. The booing today in The Swamp was nothing less than embarrassing and so wrong. But so was Franks’ actions in the end zone, twice. Just saw where his actions made national news, not the great comeback that Franks led. Time to grow up, Franks. And time to stop booing college football players if you love the Florida Gators, Gator Nation.

    • Yeah, he also bumped into an SC player at the end of the game and it looked on purpose and you could see him just running his mouth after the game like crazy. He’s got a lot of growing up to do but we’ve all seen this type of behavior from him before. You’d think after all this time he’s change.The booing is a huge issue. Spurrier hated it.

  4. Putting myself in his shoes when I was 20-21, I would have done the same thing. The fans got what they deserved from FF!! Dont blame him at all!! Didnt hear any after the 1st TD. FF actually had a great game. Awesome job FF, pat yourself on the back, well deserved!!

    Dam 6, i really like your sarcasm, that was good!! Thanks for the laugh! Lol

  5. Nice to know most of the fans on here find boobirds to be an embarrassment. That’s one good thing about this board. It’s a viable place to vent. I know I was pretty frustrated with the way Franks seemed to be regressing against UGA and Mizzou, and I expressed on here that I was ready for Mullen to try a different qb. I’m still doubtful that Franks has the whole pkg of skills needed, but I was happy to see him lead the team to an important victory today. It will keep the noise in the system toned down and should help with recruiting. The boo birds should find a better place to vent frustration.

  6. Just finished watching the replay. This game was won on one play. The oversnap on 3rd and long, 31-14, where Franks picks it up on one hop and has a two tip miracle completion. That play goes any differently and the Gators lose. Amazing.

  7. When SC went up 31-17 I said that is it. I could not remember when the gators scored 31 against an SEC team. I just sat there hoping that something would change. This was a great team effort. The SEC is crazy this year. TN beat Ky and LSU had a tough time with Arkansas. It looked like Vandy was going to beat Mizzou then the tigers came back. That Mizzou team really could be good. Don’t know what to think about FSU. They got killed again last night, but watching the game they have some really good athletes.

    • I think the big thing about FSU-Notre Dame isn’t the fact that FSU got blown out again this season — it’s watching the sports media squirm when two media darlings play each other, and then how to spin it when one of them gets destroyed. I mean, after all, Taggart is still their heavy favorite for Coach of the Year!

  8. Fans have the prerogative to boo when having to sit through incompetence specially at the most important position. Booing goes on at every stadium in America when the product on the field is below par. It would be worse for the fans to give up and stay home. So have them show up and give them something to cheer about. Gator Nation has gone for far too long with bad QB play, it’s understandable the fans have had enough. Give them credit for showing up and being excited about the Mullen regime.

    • Yes, it is their choice to boo. However, booing is completely counterproductive to the future success of the Program. Yes, a handful are playing for a shot of getting into the NFL. But most these players are kids playing for the love of the sport. I understand they get valuable scholarships. However, their bodies are getting destroyed in the process. How does a recruit in attendance such as Trey Sanders view the booing of the players? It can’t be positive. Fans should save their booing for the professional millionaires playing for the Buccaneers, Jaguars and Dolphins. I’m hoping in the future the non-boo birds overwhelm the boo birds with cheering.

  9. Very impressed with this comeback win – was in the south endzone stands cheering the Gators on – so very proud of the resilience displayed by the Gators yesterday! Please keep your focus and discipline through the remainder of this season – beat Idaho and BEAT FSU!!! GO GATORS!!!

  10. The biggest growth i’ve seen in Felipe Franks this year is his leadership role and the way the team believes in him as one of their leaders as well. That’s something that’s huge in creating a winning culture. He absolutely still has things to learn about the QB position and improve on his accuracy, but the want and will to win, something that can’t be taught, is indispensable. I’m no QB guru at all, but I think he’s got the physical skills, just not 100% sure what his QB I.Q. might be as far as how much he can comprehend at the position. Only time will tell on that.