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Friday, May 20, 2022

Best Game I Ever Saw Live: The Swamp Comes Alive at Night

Zach best game
Zach best game

Editor's note: this article is part of alligatorSports' "Best Game I Ever..." series. To find the rest of our articles, visit this page.

It’s widely understood in the college football world that The Swamp is one of the toughest places to play in the country. 

But, few have experienced it when the sun goes down and the light comes on.

My first chance to witness Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at night was one to remember.

It was Oct. 3, 2015 when No. 25 Florida dismantled No. 3 Ole Miss. 

I remember when I first purchased tickets online before the season started. I told my dad, who went with me, that this should be a competitive game that the Gators should win despite the fact that UF was led by first-year head coach Jim McElwain and quarterback Will Grier.

However, I didn’t expect Ole Miss to become the offensive juggernaut it was, averaging over 50 points per game.

After its upset victory over Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ole Miss rocketed to No. 3.

To make matters worse during the week leading up to the game, Grier came down with the flu and was questionable for Saturday. But he played and went on to create his version of Michael Jordan’s flu game.

On game day, my Dad and I made the hour and a half trek from Jacksonville to Gainesville where I spent the whole trip stressing to him about the fast-paced Rebels offense.

When we arrived at The Swamp, it was still humming from the week prior when Grier found freshman Antonio Callaway on fourth and 14 to miraculously beat Tennessee 28-27 in the closing moments. 

On top of the humming, there was an extra buzz due to the looming top-25 showdown about to take place. 

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The culmination of the buzzing and humming reached its climax at kick off. 

The party started when Grier threw off his back foot and hit Demarcus Robinson in double coverage for a 36-yard touchdown, resulting in orange and blue fireworks screaming out of the north end zone scoreboard.

In the upper northeast corner, I remember adrenaline rushing through my veins, high-fiving strangers and hugging my Dad in celebration.

UF struck again a few minutes later after defensive end Bryan Cox Jr. scooped up a Rebels fumble. Grier hit redshirt senior Jake Mcgee in the back of the end zone. Then, I high fived those same strangers who started to feel like friends.

However, none of these moments compare to the roars I heard and the goosebumps that felt like tattoos when sophomore Brandon Powell outraced the Rebels safety for a 77-yard touchdown to take a 19-0 lead. 

I still haven’t forgotten about the explosions of cheers after each turnover the Gators defense caused that night, which led the ringing in my ears to persist the next day. 

Florida didn’t let up in the second half, defeating Ole Miss 38-10. It also held the Rebels to a season low in points.

This game was also memorable because it added to the legacy of Grier at Florida. It also served as evidence that the Gators had halted their streak of lackluster quarterback play that had haunted the program since the days of Tim Tebow.

But, news broke that Grier had tested positive for performance enhancing drugs the week after the Missouri game, resulting in a yearlong suspension. This ultimately led to his decision to transfer to West Virginia.

Still, Grier’s performance gave Florida fans hope that its quarterback struggles were over for a couple games.

Despite his suspension, the season was not a lost cause for the Gators. Grier was replaced by sophomore Treon Harris and they went on to win 10 games in the 2015 season, which earned them a berth in the SEC championship game.

This game will always be special to me because of the time I spent with my dad and because it helped me realize that I wanted to attend UF after graduating with my Associates in Arts degree at a local community college.

Follow Zachary Huber on Twitter @zacharyahuber. Contact him at zhuber@alligator.org.

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