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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Gators fall in Columbia despite late heroics

Florida sinks to losing record after failed upset bid

Junior running back Montrell Johnson Jr. runs the ball in the Gators' 43-20 on Saturday, Oct. 28, 2023 in Jacksonville, Florida.
Junior running back Montrell Johnson Jr. runs the ball in the Gators' 43-20 on Saturday, Oct. 28, 2023 in Jacksonville, Florida.

Florida redshirt freshman quarterback Max Brown did everything he could on the final drive of the game for the Gators. 

After entering the game at the beginning of the fourth quarter due to a shoulder injury by redshirt junior quarterback Graham Mertz, Brown led back-to-back scoring drives for the Gators and put them on top 31-30 with 1:36 left on the clock.

Missouri junior quarterback Brady Cook led the Tigers down the field until he found himself in a daunting 4th-and-17 situation. 

With just 38 ticks remaining at Missouri’s own 33-yard line, Cook sat back in the pocket and scanned downfield for a receiver.

A hole opened in the secondary, and sophomore receiver Luther Burden emerged. Burden caught the ball 10 yards past the first down marker and kept the Tigers’ hopes alive. 

Missouri sat just inside field goal range, and three completions by Cook set up a chip-shot field goal for senior kicker Harrison Mevis from 30 yards out. He connected and secured the victory for the Tigers

The Florida Gators (5-6, 3-4 SEC) lost against the No. 11 Missouri Tigers (9-2, 5-2 SEC) 33-31 at Faurot Field Saturday night. 

Florida’s defense had a historically bad performance against the then-No. 18 Louisiana Tigers Nov. 11. UF surrendered 701 yards of offense, which was the most given up in a game in program history. 

The Gators flipped the script in the first quarter Saturday. Missouri slowly worked itself to the goal line after nine plays, but Florida held the Tigers to three points after an impressive defense stand.

The momentum carried onto the Gators’ offense. Florida redshirt junior quarterback Graham Mertz led the Gators down the field and capped off the first drive with a touchdown pass to freshman receiver Eugene Wilson in the back of the end zone.

Florida led 7-3 early and gave itself the opportunity to expand its lead with consecutive defensive stops. However, Mertz and the offense looked stagnant after its impressive first drive.

The Gators went three-and-out and gained one total yard in back-to-back drives. Then, Missouri’s offense found its footing.

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Tigers running back Cody Schrader — one of the top-ranked running backs in the nation — shredded Florida’s defense. Schrader made himself a focal point in both the run and passing game and began the second quarter with a 42-yard touchdown run to swipe the lead from the Gators.

The teams went back and forth in a punt-off until Missouri’s defense was able to capitalize on a high throw by Mertz. The former Wisconsin quarterback looked toward redshirt freshman Arlis Boardingham who was running toward the sideline. Mertz aired out a pass that tipped off the fingers of Boardingham and into the arms of Tigers defensive back Jaylon Carlies. 

It was the first interception thrown by Florida’s quarterback since Sept. 9 against Kentucky.

Missouri added three more points to extend its lead to 13-7 with just 1:21 remaining in the first half. The Gators were unable to add a score before halftime but opened the second half with vengeance. 

Florida sophomore running back Trevor Etienne carried the workload in the first drive of the second half. Etienne commanded five of the six plays and finished the drive with a 37-yard touchdown reception to regain Florida’s lead at 14-13.

It didn’t take long for Missouri to respond, though.

Cook worked the following drive with his arm and completed four passes to move Missouri just outside of the red zone. Back-to-back runs by Schrader placed the Tigers one yard out from the end zone, and Cook punched it into the end zone with his legs for six. 

Florida needed just three plays to take back the lead as the game headed into a wild third quarter. Mertz found redshirt freshman tight end Hayden Hansen for a 38-yard gain. 

His favorite option, senior receiver Ricky Pearsall, punched it into the end zone two plays later on an end-around. 

The Tigers scored 10 unanswered points with a field goal and touchdown. When the Gators got the ball back, the inconceivable occurred.

Three plays into Florida’s drive, the Gators faced a third-and-five at their own 30-yard line. The pocket quickly collapsed on Mertz, and the transfer quarterback tried to create life and scramble for a first down. 

Mertz lowered his shoulder and bulldozed through to Missouri defenders for the first down but hobbled off the field with a shoulder injury. 

In came redshirt freshman backup quarterback Max Brown. Brown drove the Gators into the red zone but was the perpetrator of an errant mistake in which he miscommunicated on a handoff and fumbled the ball at the Tigers’ 17-yard line. 

Missouri instantly responded with a 77-yard catch-and-score from senior wide receiver Theo Wease. 

The Gators chipped away at the nine-point deficit with a second touchdown by Etienne, which marked his fifth in two games. 

Florida gained possession of the ball at their own 38-yard line with five minutes left in the fourth quarter after a shanked 26-yard punt by Missouri senior punter Riley Williams. 

With the clock quickly dwindling down, Brown and the Gators worked their way downfield with Etienne carrying a majority of the workload. 

On third-and-three, Brown sprung outside the pocket and ran 27 yards downfield to position Florida inside the red zone with just under two minutes remaining. 

Florida mustered just three points after a sequence of plays that couldn’t move the Gators past the sticks. Florida gained a 31-30 lead on a 35-yard field goal by sophomore kicker Trey Smack and left it to its defense with 96 seconds remaining.

The Tigers slowly moved downfield until 4th-and-17 when they elected to call a timeout with the game on the line. 

Burden caught the ball 10 yards past the first down marker and kept the Tigers’ hopes alive. 

Three completions by Cook set up a 30-yard field goal for Mevis, who converted it with ease. 

The Tigers earned a 33-31 lead, and with just five ticks left, the game was practically over for Florida. 

Brown completed a 13-yard pass to sophomore receiver Kahleil Jackson and lateralled the ball to Pearsall, who was quickly downed at the 38-yard line to end the game.

The Florida Gators will finish their season against the Florida State Seminoles at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 25 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. The game will be broadcast on ESPN. 

Contact Luke Adragna at ladragna@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @lukeadrag.


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Luke Adragna

Luke Adragna is a third-year journalism student and the Florida Gators football reporter at The Alligator. He is a cat ethusiast and completes the NYT Daily Mini in less than a minute each day.


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