Florida football: 'I'll do that 50 out of 50 if it ever happens again," Pierce said of helmet-less run

Graham Hall
Special to The Sun

Dameon Pierce did not appear to have just played his final game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium when he first made his way to the front of Florida’s meeting room in the south end zone. 

As was often the case with the enigmatic Pierce, he was all smiles and full of jokes as he began to address the media last Saturday; Pierce even asked to field questions via FaceTime from Kassidy Hill, a reporter now with the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel who spent the better part of the last decade covering the Gators. 

And if he weren’t asked about it repeatedly, neither would there have been any indication from Pierce that he’d made 88,000-plus jaws drop with a run that surely stands as the most stunning in Florida’s storied history — to result in negative yards, that is. 

At the top of the fourth quarter and with the Gators inside FSU’s 15-yard line looking to push the lead to 24-7, Pierce took the hand-off, cut back inside and took off sprinting with an open field in front of him. 

As he approached the first-down marker, Pierce was grabbed from behind by the helmet by Seminoles safety Jammie Robinson, which quickly removed the only thing keeping Pierce’s precious noggin out of harm’s way. 

Rather than force Pierce to the ground, Robinson’s infraction only seemed to propel the Gators’ leading rusher forward — Pierce lowered his head, barreled across the goal line amid a throng of both flags and cheers, and appeared to shout in jubilation in the direction of his teammates on the sideline as he flexed his bodybuilder-esque physique.

“My mama been calling me hardheaded since I was little, so that ain’t nothing new,” Pierce quipped. “That was just basic instinct.”

Although, as many would soon be reminded or learn, Pierce’s perseverance despite having been stripped of the most important piece of safety equipment on the football field was ultimately detrimental rather than beneficial. 

For continuing to run without a helmet, Pierce was flagged for illegal participation, a 15-yard penalty from the spot of the infraction, which was determined to be the 5-yard line. 

Rather than offset Pierce’s penalty, the horse-collar tackle by Robinson was just a 10-yard unsportsmanlike conduct, putting the ball at Florida State’s 10-yard line, which meant the Gators lost 5 yards on the play because Pierce didn’t immediately stop running upon having his helmet forcibly removed. 

The rule is designed to encourage safe play, though in this case the result was the opposite of its intended effect, and it came as a shock to many Florida fans who hold a similar play in high regard; It didn’t take long for many to draw comparisons to Earl Everett’s helmetless sack of Troy Smith in the BCS National Championship game in 2007.

Pierce would eventually find the end zone four plays later on 4th-and-3, but the score didn’t answer the question on the minds of many: how could that officiating decision make any sense?

The man guilty of not stopping in his tracks didn’t have an answer, although Pierce is certain of one thing: he’d do it all over again. 

“Man, I don’t know how it came off — I just knew I was three yards from the touchdown, so I got there,” Pierce said. “I don’t know why it’s a flag. I don’t know why you want me to stop running if I’m in motion. I see the goal line and I see the end zone. I’ll do that 50 out of 50 if it ever happens again.”

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Pierce has developed a reputation as a bruiser during his four years with the Florida football program, and his durability as a runner has helped him consistently find the end zone despite operating in an ever-revolving backfield. Saturday’s fourth-quarter score marked Pierce’s 15th touchdown of the season, the most touchdowns by a non-quarterback for the Gators since Percy Harvin finished the 2008 season with 17 touchdowns. 

Florida running back Dameon Pierce runs over two FSU defenders to reach the end zone despite losing his helmet Saturday, but was penalized 15 yards for unnecessary roughness because he was helmetless.

The ‘Noles should have known Pierce would be fiending for six on Saturday, and in retrospect they should have assumed that illicitly antagonizing him would backfire. 

“That’s how I run, especially if I’m in the zone. Coach (Garrick) McGee said he wanted to get me rolling, and that’s what happened,” Pierce said. “The offensive line went to clicking, and we just feed off each other’s energy. If the O-line sees me turned up, that turns them up. When I see them turn up, I want to turn up for them.”

The energy in the final quarter of the 2021 regular season was palpable, from Pierce and his fellow Gators to the packed Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. It’s been a season marked by disappointment and upheaval in the latter half, though the victory — which was sealed by Pierce’s score after FSU rallied late — gave the Gators something to build on in 2022. 

Pierce likely will not be in Gainesville to see it, but Saturday was a reminder there’s reason to believe he’ll have an impact on the program for years to come. 

Before that happens, however, he intends to don his orange and blue No. 27 jersey one last time. 

“Hopefully we can add on to this performance, get better from this performance — we got a couple weeks of rest, a couple weeks to chill, get our bodies back right. Like I said, the vibe was back in the locker room, I feel that vibe and I feel very confident now,” Pierce said. “I probably couldn’t say that three or four weeks ago, to be honest, but the only thing that matters is that we were who we are as a team and as a program, and hopefully we’re just going to carry that over to the bowl game.”

Up next

The Gators find out their bowl destination during the college football playoff and bowl selection show starting at noon Sunday on ESPN.