MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Lamical Perine didn’t waste much time in the final outing of his collegiate career.
Just three plays into Florida’s Orange Bowl matchup with Virginia, the senior running back found the end zone on his second-longest run of the season. He took the handoff on a shotgun draw, broke through a hole at the line of scrimmage and exploded down the sideline for a 61-yard score.
It was one of three total touchdowns on the day for the game’s MVP. Perine finished with a season-high 183 total yards (138 rushing and 43 receiving) as the Gators beat the Cavaliers 36-28 to win their second New Year’s Six Bowl in as many years and earn 11 wins for the first time since 2012.
“It was a blessing,” Perine said of being honored as MVP. “My team worked hard. I worked hard for a whole month just to get this win, so it feels good.”
Virginia, however, proved to be a peskier foe than the 14.5-point spread indicated. Though the Gators contained dual-threat Cavaliers quarterback Bryce Perkins on the ground, holding him to 24 yards on 14 attempts, they allowed a big day through the air as he tossed four touchdowns and 323 yards.
After a first quarter interception from UF quarterback Kyle Trask in which he overthrew receiver Freddie Swain on an out route, Perkins answered for Virginia with a 34-yard passing touchdown to Terrell Jana on the first play of the ensuing drive.
“We had to keep battling,” coach Dan Mullen said. “They’re an excellent team. You saw that all year. They’ve got a hell of a quarterback, made a ton of plays...but I’ll be honest with you, I’m proud of our guys. We found a way to finish.”
Trask had perhaps his weakest performance of the season in the first half, but he finished with a respectable 305 yards, one touchdown and one pick on a 24-of-39 day.
He led a Florida response in the form of a 13-play, 75-yard drive capped off by a Perine receiving touchdown. After allowing UVA to tie the game up at 14 off a 14-play, 88-yard drive, UF was finally able to gain some separation late in the second quarter after an Evan McPherson field goal and Perine’s third touchdown of the half put it up 24-14 at the break.
“(Perine’s) one of the best backs in the country...he showed it out here tonight, running, catching,” Mullen said.
Virginia made a push in the fourth quarter, cutting Florida’s lead to six, but a gamble from Dan Mullen on a fourth and one paid off, as a speed option pitch to Perine saved the drive. Three plays later, a Trask rushing touchdown made it a 33-21 game with just 3:32 left. An interception from UF corner Kaiir Elam (who saw increased playing time after C.J. Henderson decided to forego the game to focus on the NFL Draft) all but sealed it.
The Cavaliers scored a late touchdown to make it a one-score game, but their onside kick attempt failed, and Perkins’ only mistake in his final collegiate game proved too costly.
For several Florida players making their final appearances in the Orange and Blue, it was a memorable outing. Receivers Van Jefferson and Tyrie Cleveland had big days, especially Jefferson, who accounted for a career-high 129 yards on six catches, while Cleveland had 51 yards on three catches.
Mullen said the team will take several days to enjoy the win before a team meeting on Jan. 6 that will commence the 2020 season. He was proud of the team’s effort this year but said it will need to improve even more to reach its goals in Year 3.
“To come out and finish as a top-10 team, maybe even a top-five team, Orange Bowl champions, that’s really special,” he said. “And if we want to go from 11 (wins) to 12, it’s a lot harder to go from 11 to 12 than it is to go from 10 to 11.”
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Lamical Perine had a season-high 138 yards rushing in the Orange Bowl.