Whitley: A beautifully ugly win for the Gators

David Whitley
Gator Sports
Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson (15) runs for yardage Saturday against Florida State at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

In a perfect ending to an imperfect afternoon of football, the Florida-Florida State game turned into a “Peanuts” comic strip.

FSU kicker Parker Grothaus, playing the role of Charlie Brown, attempted an onside kick. An invisible person playing the role of Lucy snatched the ball away at the last second.

Grothaus right foot grazed the ball. It didn’t go the required 10 yards. It might not have gone 10 centimeters.

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“I’ve never seen that before in my life,” UF interim coach Greg Knox said. “I’m thankful for it.”

Instead of the Seminoles potentially recovering an onside kick, the Gators got possession and ran out the clock on one of the ugliest wins in Florida history.

Or was it?

In a lot of ways, Saturday’s game lived down to its expectations, right down to the 3-point favorites winning by three. Two 5-6 teams resembled a couple of drunks in a fight. There was a lot more stumbling and bumbling than clean shots being landed.

The scorecard would read — five interceptions, six fumbles (only one recovered by the other team) and 23 penalties. The game lasted right at four hours, and about 90 minutes of that was spent watching officials watch replays of contested plays.

We could carp on all that, and all the ineptitude would matter in normal circumstances. Saturday obviously wasn’t a normal circumstance for the Gators.

“Losses, coaching changed, all kinds of crazy stuff going on,” Zach Carter said. “We just stayed focused and got the job done.”

Well, the Gators’ defense stayed pretty focused, at least until FSU scrambled up two fourth-quarter touchdowns to make things verrry interesting. We could say it was another example of the erratic play that’s been a 2021 trademark.

We could get into Emory Jones’s three first-half interceptions, and harp on how Anthony Richardson should be permanently installed at quarterback.

All that would be worth chewing on under normal circumstances, but it really doesn’t matter. Not when a new coaching staff is about to wipe the entire slate clean. Not when all the Gators had at stake was an appearance in the Gasparilla or Duke’s Mayo bowl.

The ramifications of a season gone bad have already gone down. Saturday was a self-contained entity unto itself. The crowd at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium could just sit back, stand up, laugh, cry, cringe and ultimately enjoy it for what it was.

A weird, wacky win over the team you most want to beat.

“The standard here is you don’t lose to Florida State,” Antonio Valentino said. “I don’t care if we’re 1-11. You don’t lose to Florida State.”

A loss was darned sure not how Carter and the seniors wanted to go out. Their determination was epitomized by Dameon Pierce’s crazed touchdown run.

Actually, it wasn’t a touchdown. But it was definitely crazed.

Florida interim head coach Greg Knox helped the Gators to the win Saturday against Florida State at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

Pierce gained eight yards before being hit at FSU’s 5-yard-line. His helmet flew off, but Peirce kept churning and plowed into the end zone.

“My mama’s been calling me hard-headed since I was little,” he said.

Unfortunately for him, the refs called him for a personal foul. When a player’s helmet comes off, he’s supposed to stop. Period. If not, it’s a 15-yard penalty. That goes against every instinct every red-blooded football player has ever had.

Would Pierce keep churning if he had to do it again?

“I’d do that 50 out of 50 if it ever happened again,” he said.

Poetic justice prevailed when Pierce kept his helmet on while punching in a TD four plays later. That made it 24-7 early in the fourth quarter.

One thing we’ve learned about this Florida team is no lead is safe. Sure enough, the final 10 minutes were full of suspense Gator Nation could have lived without.

A tying TD and an onside kick seemed inevitable. FSU has something of a history when it comes to crucial kicking failures. But at least with all those Wide Rights and Lefts, the kicker actually kicked the ball.

Poor Grothaus went full Charlie Brown, though we shouldn’t make him too much of a goat. There was enough ineptitude Saturday for a dozen Florida-FSU games.

“Was it our best? No,” Knox said. “But it was a win. And a great win.”

And an ugly win.

But considering everything the Gators and their fans have endured this season, it was truly a thing of beauty.

— David Whitley is The Gainesville Sun's sports columnist. Contact him at And follow him on Twitter: @DavidEWhitley