One by one they were called to assemble. With each passing name, the crowd’s cheers rumbled as each senior had one final chance to bask in the atmosphere before the curtains were called on their college football careers in Gainesville.
Then, quarterback Kyle Trask was the 27th and final student-athlete to hear his name. The 16,610 seemingly multiplied, their cheers a thunderous roar like a pianist’s keys moving from treble to bass. More than five years ago, Kyle Trask visited Gainesville as a 3-star recruit from Texas. He stood about half his current size with a face marked by acne, yet he looked happy as ever to be on campus. But Saturday night, he was leaving — not as a backup — as a Heisman hopeful looking to end his fairytale story with a win.
Not all stories end happily, though.
Trask’s was derailed because of an errant shoe thrown by cornerback Marco Wilson, among those honored earlier. His conduct warranted a 15-yard penalty, a new set of downs and a prime opportunity to knock in the go-ahead score. Louisiana State’s kicker, Cade York, had no trouble aiming through dense fog from 57-yards out, and LSU upset No. 6 Florida 37-34.
“I didn’t see that,” a short-tempered coach Dan Mullen said of Wilson’s game-changing lapse in judgment.
Florida (8-2) had eight total drives in the first half. Only three ended with points scored. Against a defense that allowed opponents to score on drives 40% of the time, according to SEC StatCat. It was almost as if Florida’s inconsistency was telegraphed from the start. Offsides on fourth and short pushed Florida to LSU’s one-yard line. A Malik Davis rush, however, resulted in no gain and LSU’s ball.
“Probably one of the worst starts we’ve ever had to a football game,” Trask said.
The only engines that mustered consistency all evening were Florida’s receivers. In his final night, Toney caught nine passes for 182 yards and a touchdown. Jacob Copeland helped with five receptions of his own for 123 yards. They were among nine different receivers who caught a pass from Trask on Saturday.
While Trask passed Danny Wuerffel on the UF single-season passing touchdown record, Trask’s 474 total yards and four total touchdowns were blemished by his three turnovers.
“I take full responsibility for everything,” Trask said.
True freshman quarterback Max Johnson started for LSU (4-5) and while the Tigers’ offense wasn’t surgical, it repeatedly carved through the Gators’ defense like it was Thanksgiving turkey.
Johnson’s 239 yards and three touchdowns were enough to hold Florida down while 179 total yards on the ground sucked life out of the Gators.
But the Gators consistently found room for big plays. Fifteen of Florida’s completions went for more than 15 yards while four rushes gained more than ten. Toney was involved in seven of those gains. LSU, however, only had nine total Big plays.
Florida’s success moving the ball ultimately amounted to a mirage as the Tigers persistently matched Florida.
Lost in the mist of defeat, Florida has a week to prepare before challenging No. 1 Alabama for the conference title.
“It is what it is,” Mullen said summarizing his emotions after the loss.
Contact Christian Ortega at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @unofficialchris.