ATLANTA — With 16 seconds left, Kyle Trask dropped back to pass.
He was hit and taken down to the turf, and as Florida struggled to get back to the line in vain, the Gators’ SEC Championship hopes died as the clock expired.
The Crimson Tide escaped the Gators 52-46 in the SEC Championship game in Atlanta, Georgia, Saturday. The win cements Alabama’s playoff berth, but the game makes UF a three loss team, making the prospect of a New Year’s bowl game unlikely.
The first half was a nightmare scenario for Florida: Alabama didn’t get stopped a single time whenever it had possession, and all of the Tide’s scores were touchdowns. The Gators gave up 366 total yards of offense in the first half, and most of the damage came from Alabama running back Najee Harris.
Harris put up 141 total yards of offense in the first half and had a staggering four touchdowns, three of them receiving and one of them rushing. He averaged 5.5 yards per carry in the first half and was paired with receiver DeVonta Smith, who put up 113 yards and a touchdown in the first half.
“We made a bunch of mental mistakes that really hurt ourselves defensively in the first half on third down, with opportunities to get off the field,” coach Dan Mullen said after the game.
Florida’s offense was decent but not enough. Trask found senior Kadarius Toney on a deep ball for a 51-yard touchdown on UF’s first drive, but it would only score 10 points afterward. The Gators found themselves down 35-17 at the end of the first half, with the Tide setting the record for most points in the first half of an SEC Championship game.
The Gators started out strong in the second half with a bomb to Trevon Grimes for a score. It wouldn’t be enough to quell the pain.
In the third quarter, Alabama didn’t seem so invincible.
Both Tide drives in the third quarter were stifled: the first a turnover on downs and the second a punt. Florida failed to capitalize on the first offensive drive off the turnover, but after the punt, it marched down the field and Nay’Quan Wright surged up the middle for a score to put the game within four points.
Alabama wouldn’t bow down so easily, though. Another Harris touchdown with slightly more than 11 minutes left in the third quarter would extend the ‘Bama lead back to 11. The Tide would then recover a fumble on the first play of Florida’s next drive and kick a field goal to put the game within 14 points.
Florida, however, responded still, and after a scare in which Alabama recovered a fumble that was deemed offside, Dameon Pierce ran the ball in for a touchdown and put the game back within seven points.
Another dominant Harris drive allowed Mac Jones to find Smith up the middle of the field, bringing it to 52-38 and putting the deficit to 14 again.
It was a deficit UF couldn’t overcome. Kyle Pitts caught a late TD and the Gators successfully went for two, but the 25 seconds they had left on the next drive wernn’t enough to win. The limited amount of time was partially due to a timeout the Gators called after the touchdown when they decided to go for a two-point conversion.
“That was bad clock management on my part,” Mullen said. “We should have had it ready to go for two.”
Trask was sacked on the final play of the game, and Alabama took home its 28th SEC Championship title.
Florida will await news on what bowl game it will play in next as the College Football Playoff committee finalizes its selections. Despite the loss, however, the Gators are certain that the future will be bright in the coming years.
“Last year we weren't here,” linebacker Mohamoud Diabate said after the game. “This year we got here. Next year, we plan on getting here and finishing the job.”
Contact River Wells at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @riverhwells