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Friday, April 12, 2024

Hogs break Gators' hearts in overtime

Florida loses in overtime for first home loss of season

<p>Sophomore running back Trevor Etienne runs the ball in the Gators&#x27; 39-36 loss to the Arkansas Razorbacks on Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023.</p>

Sophomore running back Trevor Etienne runs the ball in the Gators' 39-36 loss to the Arkansas Razorbacks on Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023.

Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson stood behind the center, 10 yards from the Florida goal line.

The Razorbacks, winless in conference play, punched Florida in the mouth early and battled throughout. The Gators’ sophomore place kicker Trey Smack had a chance to end the game in regulation, but he couldn’t cash in.

After a first down holding penalty, Jefferson battled through the Florida defense and rumbled for a 20-yard chunk. Running back Raheim Sanders scampered for 10 more yards to put the Hogs yards away from an upset.

Jefferson took the snap and looked to his right. He threw a dart to the end zone and into the waiting arms of Tyrone Broden for a game-winning touchdown to break the hearts in front of the Florida student section. 

The Florida Gators (5-4, 3-3 SEC) fell to the Arkansas Razorbacks (3-6, 1-5 SEC) 39-36 in overtime. The loss was Florida’s first overtime game since Dan Mullen’s last game in charge when the Gators lost to Missouri in 2021. 

The loss marked Florida’s first loss at home this season. 

“We’ve been on the other side of one like that,” Florida head coach Billy Napier said. “We had our opportunities, no question about it.”

Arkansas and new offensive coordinator Kenny Guiton surprised Florida on the opening snap. Tailback AJ Green took the direct snap and handed the ball to Jefferson who found wide-open Ty Washington for a 25-yard score.

The Razorbacks rumbled into the red zone and Jefferson found Green wide open on a wheel route for an eight-yard score.

The Gators looked to respond with an early counterpunch, but Arkansas had other ideas. Senior receiver Ricky Pearsall ran up the sideline for a good first-down gain, but cornerback Jaylon Braxton wrestled the ball from Pearsall’s arms and bolted for a 33-yard touchdown.

Florida limped to a three-and-out on the next offensive possession, but junior punter Jeremy Crawshaw boomed a 58-yard punt to the Razorbacks seven-yard line. Junior edge rusher Princely Umanmielen and redshirt junior linebacker Mannie Nunnery combined for a tackle-for-loss to force a quick punt.

The wobbly punt allowed Pearsall to spring loose for a 16-yard return and set the Gators up at the Arkansas 33-yard line. 

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Florida capitalized on the good field position. After junior running back Montrell Johnson Jr. couldn’t hold on to a touchdown pass, redshirt junior quarterback Graham Mertz threaded the needle to freshman receiver Eugene Wilson III for a 20-yard score.

Another Razorback three and out led to another dynamic punt return for Pearsall, this time a 40-yard burst across midfield. Sophomore running back Trevor Etienne raced through the defense for a 32-yard gash to put the Gators back in the red zone.

Wilson nearly scored his second touchdown of the game, but offsetting hands-to-the-face penalties took the score off the board. It didn’t matter, however, as Wilson walked into the end zone on the next play to tie the game.

Florida’s defense continued to harass Jefferson on the next drive. The veteran gunslinger rolled to his right and sent up a prayer, only for Florida freshman safety Jordan Castell to casually intercept the lofted ball for his first career collegiate pick.

The Razorbacks offense faced a 4th-and-1 near midfield. Arkansas lined up tight under center, potentially to shove Jefferson across the line, but a series of shifts and motions eventually led to an offsides penalty and a first down.

Florida’s defense responded with a fury. Umanmielen swept through the offensive line and brought down for a third-down sack that forced a punt.

Arkansas finally found life offensively when Jefferson connected with Andrew Armstrong for a 45-yard bomb up the right sideline. The Gators responded, though, and forced a field goal. Florida tried to get a late score of its own and settled for a 47-yard field goal to tie the game at halftime.

The Hogs broke through first in the second half. Jefferson delivered a dart over the middle to Armstrong, and the Arkansas receiver raced for a 48-yard chunk. Florida responded once again and forced the Razorbacks to settle for a field goal. 

Arkansas took over after another Gators punt, and Florida forced another field goal attempt. However, Razorbacks kicker Cam Little couldn’t cash in from 50 yards out and the lead stayed at three points. 

Mertz and the offense failed to get out of first gear and had to punt the ball away again. Florida’s defense continued to make plays to make up for the slow offense, though. Redshirt sophomore linebacker Scooby Williams attacked the ball carrier and punched out the football. 

The Gators pounced on the fumble and took over in plus territory once again. Like in the first half, Florida wouldn’t squander the golden field position. Mertz lofted a pass to Pearsall who battled the final yard to cross the goal line and give UF its first lead of the day, 23-20.

Jefferson and the Hogs responded with a methodical drive to work into the Gators’ red zone. Florida’s defense refused to back down once again and forced Arkansas to settle for a field goal from inside UF’s five-yard line. 

Facing a third-and-9 near midfield, the Gators needed a conversion to keep the potential go-ahead drive alive. Mertz delivered a strike to Wilson over the middle, and the freshman speedster escaped the crowd for 18 yards.

Florida couldn’t move the ball deep in Razorback territory, and Smack converted a 44-yard field goal to give the Gators a three-point lead.

Jefferson stood in the pocket facing a long third down with less than six minutes to play. The veteran signal caller delivered a strike to keep the Arkansas drive alive and push the Hogs deep into Florida territory.

Two plays later, Jefferson called his own number and sent a dagger into the Gators’ hearts. The redshirt senior kept the ball on an option play and beat the defense for a go-ahead, 25-yard score.

Trailing late in the fourth, Florida turned to Etienne, and the sophomore tailback delivered. He caught a swing pass on the left sideline and outran the defense for a 41-yard gain. On the next play, the Jennings, Louisiana, product found a hole in the line for a 26-yard touchdown.

Jefferson responded and led Arkansas right down the field and into the shadow of the Gators’ red zone. Florida’s defense continued to respond in critical areas, and two Razorback penalties pushed the offense to the edge of field goal range. 

Little lined up for a game-tying 47-yard field goal, and the kicker drilled the clutch kick with room to spare to potentially send the game to overtime with less than a minute to play. 

Mertz and Florida’s offense hit several quick passes to move to the edge of field goal range. The quarterback found redshirt freshman tight end Arlis Boardingham who moved the ball to the Arkansas 26-yard line.

After a muddled spike that nearly resulted in a regulation-ending 10-second runoff, Smack walked onto the field to escape with a win and get UF back to a bowl game. The kick pushed just right of the post, and the game went to overtime. 

Mertz looked for Boardingham on a third down in overtime, but the young tight end couldn’t secure the grab. The Gators settled for a field goal in the top of the first and needed to keep the Hogs out of the endzone to either win or keep the game alive. 

Jefferson and the Razorbacks ripped through the defense, however, and walked it off with a game-winning touchdown.

The Gators will travel to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to take on the top-15 Louisiana State Tigers. 

Contact Topher Adams at Follow him on Twitter @Topher_Adams.

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Topher Adams

Topher Adams is a fourth-year communications major and in his fourth semester with the Alligator. He previously covered football, baseball and women's basketball. He also enjoys professional lacrosse and Major League Soccer.

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