Florida State fans finally had something to celebrate after defeating the Florida Gators for the first time since 2017, and they took full advantage.
After the game clock hit triple zeros, many of the 79,650 fans inside Doak Campbell Stadium took to the field in celebration.
The Gators, who suffered a puzzling defeat to Vanderbilt in Nashville the weekend prior, entered Tallahassee and found themselves in a dogfight. The Seminoles, on the other hand, rode a four-game win streak with an average margin of victory of 33.5 into the rivalry clash, but they faced one of their toughest tests of the season against UF.
Explosive, career-high performances from freshman running back Trevor Etienne and Arizona State transfer wide receiver Ricky Pearsall nearly willed Florida (6-6, 3-5 SEC) to victory. However, FSU (9-3, 5-3 ACC) held off a ferocious second-half comeback effort and sent the Gators home with a loss, 45-38.
UF head coach Billy Napier was satisfied with his team’s effort, but he acknowledged how ultimately losing still stings.
“I am extremely proud. The staff had them ready to compete and they showed up and put
it on the line,” Napier said postgame. “Tough one to swallow. But we’re going to get better. We’re going to improve. We’re going to use that experience.”
The Gators entered the game depleted on offense, missing four of their top wide receivers. Pearsall, who was questionable to play with a lower-body injury, ended up playing and kept Florida in the game early with a pair of long touchdown receptions of 52 and 43 yards respectively.
UF quarterback Anthony Richardson started the game on fire; he completed five of his first seven passes for 151 yards and three touchdowns. From then on, Richardson ended the game connecting on just four of 20 passing attempts for 47 yards and an interception.
When Richardson sat down for his postgame he looked down at the stat sheet on the table in front of him. He shook his head in disappointment.
“It was just crazy to see it was only nine completions,” Richardson said.
Andrew Aleman, a 50-yard-old FSU alumnus and Seminoles season ticket holder, has watched a decent amount of Florida football, he said, since his stepdaughter went to UF. Aleman believes that Richardson’s inaccuracy throughout the game was what held the Gators back from pulling the upset.
“[Florida] had such an inexperienced group [of receivers] out there and every time if Richardson was even a little bit accurate, I think [Florida] probably might have pulled [the win] out,” Aleman said.
He added he doesn’t think Richardson fits into the offensive system Billy Napier wants to run at Florida. Both the Gators and Richardson parting ways after this season could be best for both of them, Aleman said.
The sophomore quarterback has still generated buzz in regards to a prospective NFL career. Richardson has seen his name pop up in numerous mock drafts in recent months, and his decision on whether to stay at Florida or play elsewhere next season seems to be on the horizon.
Richardson, who passed for more than 2,500 yards and rushed for more than 700 yards this season, didn’t directly address his future after the FSU loss. Going back to the drawing board and fixing the mistakes from the game are his top priority, he said.
The atmosphere inside Doak Campbell Stadium played a factor in the game. The sell-out crowd was surprising since the game was played on a weeknight and the day after Thanksgiving, Riley Kiefer said.
Kiefer, a 21-year-old UF information systems and operations management masters student, has attended all 12 Gator games this season. He made trips to Knoxville, Tennessee; Jacksonville; College Station, Texas; Nashville and Tallahassee. Kiefer thinks FSU’s home stadium was the second loudest he’s visited this year, but it still doesn’t compare to games in Gainesville.
“It definitely wasn’t anything like the Swamp,” Kiefer said.
After the clock hit triple zeros and the Seminoles had secured their first victory over Florida in
three seasons, many fans elected to leap onto Bobby Bowden Field. FSU head coach Mike Norvell, who is in just his third season at the helm in Tallahassee, praised the fans who showed out.
“That's what this game is supposed to be. Energy, passion, incredible atmosphere,” Norvell said postgame. “It was an unbelievable environment to be a part of a college football game.”
Kiefer and Aleman agree Florida State fans storming the field was a surprise. Kiefer went a step further and called the act an embarrassment.
“I just don't know how they can think that's justified,” Kiefer said.
The on-field result against the Seminoles and a turbulent 6-6 season ended Napier’s first season in Gainesville on an uncertain note. With news like Richardson’s decision to stay or leave, veteran players likely electing to forgo the Gators’ upcoming bowl game and the possibility of more transfers looming, the offseason and Napier’s follow-up season shouldn’t lack storylines.
Aleman plans to watch the Gators closely, he said, and believes Napier is going to push the program in the right direction. Aleman knows Florida is a consistent program and the closeness of this season’s game against Florida State proves that, he said.
“[Napier] is a great motivator. He’s also a great recruiter,” Aleman said. “That’s where [UF] has the edge.”
Joseph Henry is a fourth-year sports journalism major and is the Alligator's sports editor. He previously worked as senior news director, assistant sports editor, men's basketball beat reporter, volleyball beat reporter and golf beat reporter. He enjoys sitting down to watch a movie as often as possible, collecting vinyl and drinking Dr. Pepper.