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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Florida fails to spoil Seminoles’ perfect season in loss

The Gators finish with third straight losing season for first time since 1940s

The Gators' defense sacks FSU quarterback Tate Rodemaker in the endzone for a safety in Florida's 24-15 loss to the Florida State Seminoles on Saturday, Nov. 25, 2023.
The Gators' defense sacks FSU quarterback Tate Rodemaker in the endzone for a safety in Florida's 24-15 loss to the Florida State Seminoles on Saturday, Nov. 25, 2023.

The Gators defense fought all night to spoil the Seminoles’ perfect season. 

Down just two points in the closing minutes, Florida needed a stop, with FSU facing a 3rd-and-3 in UF territory. 

Noles running back Trey Benson took the ball and broke the Gators’ hearts as he burst through a hole in the line and barreled his way into the endzone to put the Noles up by two scores late.

UF head coach Billy Napier thought his team, filled with young starters, will be able to build on this experience despite the defeat.

“I think that when we look back at the last couple weeks, we had the lead multiple times in the fourth quarter,” said UF head coach Billy Napier. “When you’re coaching a team that has the makeup of this team. We have to use this experience.”

The Florida Gators (5-7, 3-5 SEC) fell to the No. 5 Florida State Seminoles (12-0, 8-0 ACC) 24-15 in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium Saturday night. The Gators’ 5-7 finish marks UF’s third consecutive losing season for the first time since 1945-1947.

“It’s tough going out on that note, but definitely something our team will learn from,” said redshirt freshman quarterback Max Brown. 

Brown finished the game 9-16 for 86 yards and one interception in his first career start. 

He stepped onto the field for his first start to open the game. He found freshman wide receiver Eugene Wilson III in the middle to convert the first UF first down of the game. 

He later sat in the pocket and scanned the field before finding Wilson at the sideline for 15 yards and another first down. 

UF burned seven minutes off the clock on the opening drive but came away empty-handed. Sophomore running back Trevor Etienne was gobbled up in the backfield on third down, and sophomore kicker Trey Smack missed a 48-yard field goal wide right. 

The Gators' defense stood tall on FSU’s first drive of the game. On second down, Benson broke several tackles trying to cut back upfield before UF gobbled him in the backfield for an 11-yard loss.

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Florida forced a punt after UF junior cornerback Jason Marshall Jr. wrapped up FSU running back Lawrance Toafili to break up a screen pass. 

The Gators got their run game going immediately on their second drive. Florida ran it four straight times and picked up a first down in the process. The Gators crossed midfield, and Brown made his best pass of the day.

He made his first read before threading the needle to redshirt freshman tight end Hayden Hansen for a gain of 24 yards near the sideline to get inside the red zone. 

Brown then found an open Etienne for a first-and-goal. FSU stifled Florida, but on third-and-goal, FSU cornerback Akeem Dent was flagged for unnecessary roughness on a sack on Brown.

UF made the most of the penalty and struck first in the game. UF junior running back Montrell Johnson Jr. found open pastures on 2nd-and-goal and ran it in for a five-yard score to put UF up 7-0 early in the second quarter.

Florida’s defense came out strong and forced another three-and-out. Procedure penalties stalled FSU as it started the drive with a false start. 

The Seminoles ran a fake punt that initially went for a first down, but the play got called back due to a delay of game penalty before the snap. Noles punter Alex Mastromanno shanked the second punt attempt for 16 yards, and UF started its drive at the FSU 40-yard line.

The Gators got stuffed on 3rd-and-1 inside the red zone and were held to a 35-yard field goal from Smack to make it 10-0 UF. 

FSU finally moved the chains for the first time midway through the second quarter. Noles quarterback Tate Rodemaker found wide receiver Johnny Wilson for 12 yards and a first down.

Florida sophomore cornerback Devin Moore came up big on the next set of downs. He forced back-to-back pass breakups, including one on Wilson on third down, to force an FSU punt.

After a Florida punt, Florida State took over inside its own 10-yard line. UF’s defense got to the backfield quickly and tackled Benson for a four-yard loss.

On third-and-long, junior edge rusher Princely Umanmielen and junior linebacker Derek Wingo burst into the backfield and sacked Rodemaker in the endzone for a safety to go up 12-0. 

The Noles finally found paydirt after a long 10-play, 90-yard drive in the final minute before the break. During the drive, Gators redshirt freshman defensive lineman Jamari Lyons appeared to spit toward an FSU player and was ejected for unsportsmanlike conduct. 

Rodemaker later found tight end Jaheim Bell for a gain of 29 yards into UF territory. Rodemaker later converted a 3rd-and-9 after he rolled out and found Wilson, who stretched out and kept his tiptoes inbounds at the one-yard line.

Benson punched it in to make it 12-7 Florida with less than a minute left before the break.

Johnson opened UF’s next drive by getting stuffed for a loss of one. FSU head coach Mike Norvell took a timeout to try and save time. The Gators made him pay immediately as Johnson broke off a 52-yard run to get to the Noles 24-yard line. 

Florida failed to capitalize on the big run after Smack missed a 52-yard field goal as the half came to a close.

The Seminoles struck quickly to open the second half. Rodemaker found receiver Keon Coleman for a gain of 24 yards. 

After a short run on first down, Benson broke off around the edge and scored a 36-yard rushing touchdown to put FSu in front 14-12 early in the second half.

The Gators opened the next drive by converting a third down after Pearsall made his first catch of the day for 17 yards. 

Johnson carried the ball three straight times as UF worked the ball deep to the edge of the red zone but eventually settled for a 37-yard field goal to go back in front 15-14 against FSU.

The Gators forced a Noles three-and-out after a sack by junior defensive lineman Desmond Watson and a pass breakup by Marshall. 

The teams traded punts heading into the fourth quarter, with Florida holding a one-point advantage.

The Noles opened the quarter with a pass interference call against Moore to get to the UF 41-yard line. FSU worked it down the field as Rodemaker fired off a throw amidst pressure to Wilson to make it first-and-goal.

On third-and-goal, UF sophomore defensive lineman Chris McClellan shed a tackle and wrapped up Benson for no gain to force a field goal. FSU nailed the 19-yarder to go up 17-15 midway through the fourth.

The Gators went three-and-out on the next drive after the FSU defensive line got to Brown for two sacks. 

The Noles moved up the field after redshirt junior cornerback Jaydon Hill got flagged for pass interference. FSU then faced a 3rd-and-14 after a Marshall sack but converted it on a Rodemaker scramble that ended in a targeting call on Hill. 

Hill was ejected from the game for targeting. 

The Noles faced a 3rd-and-3 at the 26-yard line. Benson broke through the middle and iced the game with a 26-yard rushing touchdown to put FSU up by nine with less than three to go in the game. 

“We haven't been able to finish,” Napier said. “That's the bottom line. We’re learning how to do it.”

UF senior linebacker Teradja Mitchell was disappointed with the season but was excited about the future of the team with the young players Florida has.

“We didn’t execute in the moments we needed to,” Mitchell said. “We have to restore order. We have to put a better product on the field. That was my message to the younger guys.”

Brown threw an interception to Kalen Deloach to end any hopes of a comeback as the Noles took the game 24-15 to close out Florida’s 2023 regular season.

Contact Jackson Reyes at Follow him on Twitter @JacksnReyes.

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Jackson Reyes

Jackson Reyes is a UF journalism senior and The Alligator's Fall 2023 Sports Editor. He previously served as Digital Managing Editor and was a reporter and assistant editor on the sports desk. In his free time, he enjoys collecting records, long walks on the beach and watching Bo Nix.

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