Gator football team finishes 6-7 with a 29-17 Gasparilla Bowl loss to UCF
The Knights rushed for 288 yards against the Gator defense
TAMPA, Fla. (WCJB) -A disappointing season for the Gator football team produced one final defeat in Thursday’s Gasparilla Bowl in a 29-17 loss to UCF, giving Florida a season-ending record of 6-7.
The win is the first ever for the Knights over the Gators in three head-to-head matchups. They finish the season 9-4.
Florida redshirt junior quarterback Emory Jones struggled in his final start as a Gator, completing only 14 of 36 passes for 171 yards. Jones is entering the NCAA transfer portal, effective at the end of the season. He also carried 10 times for 62 yards.
The teams started the game by trading four consecutive punts. Florida then turned it over on downs when Jones’ pass to Rick Wells fell incomplete. After a third UCF punt, the Gators pieced together an 8 play, 58-yard scoring drive, culminating in Dameon Pierce’s 2-yard touchdown run. Florida led, 7-0 after one quarter. Pierce rushed 13 times for 57 yards.
The Knights reached the red zone for the first time early in the second quarter and closed to within 7-6 on Isaiah Bowser’s 2-yard rushing touchdown. The two-point conversion failed.
UCF kicked a field goal on its next possession to go ahead, 9-7, but the damage could have been worse. Florida linebacker Ty’Ron Hopper came up with a sack on third and goal from the 7, good for a 10-yard loss.
Florida responded with a Chris Howard 26-yard field goal to make the score 10-9 Florida at halftime. The drive was highlighted by Jones running 20 yards on 3rd and 18 to position Florida in UCF territory. The Gators out gained the Knights in the first half, 233-140.
UCF got an offensive spark early in the third quarter on a 74-yard run by Ryan O’Keefe to the Gator 4-yard line that set up a touchdown run by Bowser. Hopper was then ejected for throwing a punch on the successful PAT attempt and UCF led, 16-10.
The lead changed hands for the fourth time on Florida’s next drive. Senior running back Malik Davis ran 19 yards for a score and the made PAT put Florida back on top, 17-16 midway through the third quarter. Davis led the Gators with 86 rushing yards on 7 attempts.
After a UCF field goal, the Knights added to their lead late in the third on Mikey Keene’s 54-yard TD pass to O’Keefe and by the end of the third, Florida faced a double digit deficit, 26-17. UCF outscored Florida in the quarter, 17-7.
O’Keefe totaled 195 yards rushing and receiving while Bowser carried 35 times for 155 yards for the Knights. UCF out gained Florida for the game, 436-376, including 293-143 after halftime. A UCF field goal in the fourth quarter produced the final points of the night.
Special teams continued to be an issue in the fourth quarter when Chris Howard missed a 48-yard field goal, his second miss of the game, which could have cut the deficit to six points. Earlier, the Gators also missed an opportunity to recover a squib kick that deflected off a Knights player.
The teams produced the first sellout in the Gasparilla Bowl’s history, with a crowd of 63,669.
The Gators were led by Greg Knox, who served as running backs and special teams coach this season and was elevated to the role of interim head coach following the firing of Dan Mullen on Nov. 21. Florida now turns to the future under new head coach Billy Napier, who was in attendance at the game.
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