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Monday, October 02, 2023

Gators empty tank, escape Aggies

Florida left Kyle Field victorious after blanking Texas A&M in second half

<p>Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson during the Gators&#x27; game against Georgia Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022. Richardson announced he will leave Florida to enter the NFL Draft Monday</p>

Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson during the Gators' game against Georgia Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022. Richardson announced he will leave Florida to enter the NFL Draft Monday

The last time the Florida Gators visited College Station, Texas, in 2020, they left a close score on the board late in the game. The Texas A&M Aggies eventually kicked a game-winning field goal as time expired to topple the Gators, who were 2-0 and ranked fourth in the nation at the time. 

Florida found itself in a similar position Saturday.

The Gators held a 34-24 fourth quarter lead over Texas A&M. Following a missed 28-yard field goal from Adam Mihalek, the Aggies had a chance to close the gap. This time, the Gators would cease the comeback effort with two forced turnovers.  

Florida (5-4, 2-4 Southeastern Conference) escaped Texas A&M (3-6, 1-5 SEC) 41-24 Saturday in a crucial road victory. With the win, the Gators take their first step to finishing the season on a high note and securing bowl eligibility. 

Both teams came out firing on offense in the first half. 

The Gators started their offense with a pass-first approach, despite being without leading receiver Justin Shorter and tight end Keon Zipperer. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Anthony Richardson completed two passes of 17 and 23 yards as the Gators marched up the field.

A handful of short gains on the ground and two false start penalties from redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Michael Tarquin eventually lead Florida to sputter out and settle for a field goal. UF took an early 3-0 over the Aggies. 

Texas A&M responded immediately. 

Aggies running back Devon Achane got handed the ball to open Texas A&M’s first possession. He cut right, then countered left to find open field and a 65-yard gain. A facemask penalty on sophomore defensive back Jason Marshall Jr. tacked on another 5 yards, placing the Aggies at the Gators’ five-yard line. 

A pass interference penalty on redshirt sophomore corner Jaydon Hill put the Aggies even closer. Achane finished what he started, punching in the touchdown to give Texas A&M a 7-3 lead.

Florida head coach Billy Napier put the ball in the hands of freshman running back Trevor Etienne the next drive. Etienne picked up three gains of 10 or more yards and brought the Gators within the Texas A&M 30-yard line.

Richardson then took a shot towards Arizona State transfer wideout Ricky Pearsall, who was lit up at the 2-yard line by Aggies defensive back Jaylon Jones. A targeting penalty was called and UF advanced to the 13.

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After a short gain from sophomore running back Montrell Johnson Jr., Richardson took the ball himself and used his legs to find the end zone. Florida regained a 10-7 lead with 6:01 to go in the first quarter.

Aggies quarterback Haynes King, who retook the reins from last week’s starter Conner Weigman, diced the Gators’ pass defense on the following drive.

King completed three passes for 10 or more yards, including a 28 yard completion and a 14-yard third down conversion to wide receiver Moose Muhammad III. The sophomore signal caller capped the drive off with a 5-yard completion to Achane for a touchdown.

Texas A&M swapped with Florida for the lead again, 14-10, with under two minutes to go in the first. 

Richardson came out the next drive and joined in on the quarterback showcase. UF crawled up the field before the Gators’ gunslinger bolted 60 yards up the field for another Florida touchdown.

At the end of the first quarter, the College Station, Texas, crowd had already witnessed 31 points and five lead changes. Florida sat ahead 17-14.

The Aggies didn’t miss a step in responding. King again worked the Texas A&M offense up the field. A 13-yard strike to senior tight end Max Wright put the Aggies inside the red zone. Florida’s defense was able to hold up enough to force a short field goal. Texas A&M settled with the tie, 17-17. 

The Gators got another chance to respond on offense, but were caught in a fourth-and-6 scenario past midfield. Richardson tossed an underhand pitch to Johnson Jr. who took it upfield for an 18-yard gain and the first down. 

Another false start and an incompletion later, the Gators found themselves facing third and goal at the 12. Before the snap, the Kyle Field crowd interfered once more, forcing a fourth false start penalty. 

UF was held to a field goal and took a 20-17 lead with 4:49 to go in the half. 

Texas A&M couldn’t keep up its momentum for another drive. After an incomplete pass on third and 24, the Aggies punted —  the first for either team — with 2:30 left in the half. The Gators followed suit, going three-and-out the following drive and electing to punt. 

The Aggies offense resumed from that point. Achane and King continued to push the ball up the field with a 21-yard rush and 15-yard completion respectively. King then found star wideout Evan Stewart on a catch-and-run that brought Texas A&M to the 3-yard line. 

A pass interference call in the end zone on sophomore defender Tre’Vez Johnson moved TAMU to the 2-yard line. Achane punched it in for his third score of the game and a 24-20 Aggies lead. 

Florida couldn’t add any offense before halftime and headed into the locker room down one score. 

The Gators’ defense and special teams would show up first in the second half. The Gators forced a punt thanks to a pass breakup by Hill. Sophomore wide receiver Xzavier Henderson brought the ensuing punt return up 28 yards past midfield.

Richardson went to work from there, finding Pearsall on a 21 yard completion. The young gunslinger then fired toward sophomore wideout Ja’Quavion Fraziars in the end zone, who came down with the ball on a one-handed over-the-shoulder grab. 

Kyle Field went silent as Florida took a 27-24 lead less than two minutes into the quarter. 

The Gators defense forced a three-and-out and the Aggies’ second consecutive punt. Florida would respond on offense with a three-and-out of its own. 

Florida forced another Aggies punt and began to move on offense once more. A 20-yard double reverse from Pearsall and a miraculous third-down conversion from Eitenne helped the Gators move into scoring position.

Richardson darted a pass between defenders to Pearsall at the goal line, but the pass was broken up at the last moment. The next play, Richardson found freshman wide receiver Caleb Douglas in the end zone to take a 34-24 lead with 3:58 left in the third.

The Gators kept rolling while the Aggies offense floundered. Richardson took the field once more following a TAMU punt and went to work. He completed four passes, including a 20-yard dart to Pearsall, to put UF in the red zone with a chance to extend its lead.

After a broken-up pass in the end zone, Florida would be left with a 28-yard field goal. Placekicker Adam Mihalek whiffed the attempt and the UF lead remained 34-24 with 14:05 left in the game. 

The Aggies took the field with a chance to close the lead. As King dropped back for a pass, he was brought down by sophomore defensive lineman Princely Umanmielen, who knocked the ball loose. The Gators recovered and took back over on offense.

Florida could not produce the nail in the coffin it was searching for on offense. Texas A&M regained possession with less than 10 minutes remaining in the game. King would eventually fumble again on the drive. The turnover was recovered by senior linebacker Amari Burney.

The two defenders stepped up huge in the win following the dismissal of star senior Brenton Cox Jr. Florida took over on offense looking to put the game away.

The Gators’ offense was eventually blown up on a fourth and goal attempt. The Aggies were left with 91 yards, 4:26 of game clock and a glimmer of hope. 

That hope was quickly shot down by a UF defense that continued to bully King in the second half. Following a failed fourth down conversion by the Aggies, Florida took over up 10 with 3:36 remaining. The Gators quickly punched in a score to go up 41-24 and seal the deal.

UF UF returns to the Swamp next Saturday, Nov. 12 to take on the South Carolina Gamecocks. The game will kickoff at 4 p.m. and will broadcast on the SEC Network. 

Contact Jackson Castellano at Follow him on Twitter @jaxacastellano.

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Jackson Castellano

Jackson Castellano is a junior sports media journalism student at UF and the Senior News Director at The Alligator for Fall 2023. In the past, he's served as the Sports Editor, Assistant Sports Editor and a Sports Reporter covering Football, Men's basketball and Baseball.

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