Football players, by letter of the rule, are required to stop playing once their helmet comes off.
The litigation victimized Florida running back Dameon Pierce Saturday afternoon. He glared silently on the Florida sideline in the fourth quarter, his helmet securely fastened low on his head, his body emanating an energy he summarized in one sentence after the game.
“I ain’t got good intentions (when I’m running),” Pierce said. “I’ll tell you that.”
Minutes before, the senior, in his final home game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, made it to the 5-yard line on a carry before Florida State’s Jammie Robinson ripped his helmet over his head in a futile tackle attempt.
Instead of falling to the ground, Pierce stormed forward, surging toward the goal line and seeking out contact from three more FSU defenders before barreling into the end zone. He immediately took to his feet and marched 40 yards back up the field in a full display of flexing, screaming and beating his chest as the Florida home crowd roared its thunderous approval.
The touchdown did not stand and Pierce was awarded a personal foul for his efforts, but the Gators (6-6, 2-6) vanquished their in-state rival Seminoles for a third straight time, 24-21, in Gainesville and gained bowl eligibility despite three first-half interceptions from starting quarterback Emory Jones.
The Florida offense managed one touchdown in regulation against Missouri a week ago but wasted no time matching the feat Saturday. After picking up yardage in digestible chunks for the opening eight plays, Jones found Kemore Gamble loose down the left sideline.
Gamble, with his mother in attendance for his senior day, made a man miss and found the orange-painted grass — a 47-yard touchdown, and the Gators led, 7-0.
After the unhurried relentlessness of the nine-play opening drive, fans could have been forgiven for expecting a shootout reminiscent of the Gators’ basketball-esque 70-52 win over Samford in its last home game.
Instead, the stands of Florida faithful who braved the day’s cold temperatures were treated to a first-half offensive performance reminiscent of Big Ten battles, dominated by punts and misfires.
Both Sunshine State rivals played Hot Potato with the football for the next eight drives, with interceptions dominating the day.
Florida State backup quarterback McKenzie Milton rolled to his left and found his man beyond everyone else on the field, unfurling a perfect pass to Florida safety Rashad Torrence.
Not to be outdone, UF interim coach Greg Knox flipped to the back page of his playbook, pulling out a flea flicker built for backyard family games on Thanksgiving afternoon. Jones stood in the pocket and found a man open deep, but the Seminoles defensive line disregarded his personal space as he wound up. The pressured pass sailed woefully short and right, and Robinson grabbed it in stride.
On Florida’s next drive, Jones and the Florida offense chugged into FSU territory again. However, Jones tried to find wideout Jacob Copeland on a short route in the flat but missed Florida State linebacker Kalen DeLoach, who jumped in the way for the afternoon’s third interception.
“Emory’s a smart player, a good player,” Knox said after the game. “He’s got to relax, just take what they give you.”
After an FSU touchdown, Jones looked poised to break the tie with less than a minute before the break. Instead, he fired an ill-fated pass into the end zone for his third interception of the afternoon and 13th of the 2021 season.
It would also be his last.
Not for Jones’ lack of effort, however, as he nailed Florida State linebacker DJ Lundy in the back on his final throw of the afternoon before finally exiting the game for redshirt freshman Anthony Richardson three minutes into the second half to the vocal joy of the orange and blue masses.
The Gainesville native held down the fort under center the rest of the way, immediately piloting the Gators to a field goal on that same drive to retake the lead. He commanded two touchdown drives as well, first hitting wide receiver Justin Shorter for an aerial score before Pierce went crazy the following drive, and Florida led 24-7.
Florida never relinquished their advantage despite two late touchdowns from the Seminoles to add a little makeup to the box score, but after a whiffed onside kick, the Gators knelt out the clock.
Richardson finished the day five-for-seven with 55 yards and a touchdown through the air, adding 27 yards on the ground on 11 carries.
In case you were wondering, Pierce did get his touchdown — he barreled into the end zone on fourth and goal four plays after his electrifying helmet-free run for his 12th rushing touchdown of the season.
“He (Pierce) is a tremendous young man,” Knox said. “And he plays with that type of passion, he practices with that type of passion...He was determined that he was going to get in that end zone.”
The senior ended his final home game with 62 rushing yards on 12 carries, but as he walked through the tunnel one last time, the Florida crowd never forgot the five that didn’t count.
Contact Ryan Haley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ryan_dhaley.
Ryan Haley, a UF journalism senior with a sports & media specialization from Jacksonville, Florida, is Summer 2022's Engagement Managing Editor. He grew up playing a bunch of different sports before settling on golf, following Rory McIlroy and all Philadelphia sports teams. He also loves all things fiction, reading, watching shows and movies and talking about whatever current story or character is in his head.