Since 1978, Florida had never been an underdog in their football home opener. Until Saturday.
The oddsmakers may want to take a closer look next time.
Florida used 104 yards rushing and three touchdowns from quarterback Anthony Richardson and a game-sealing interception by Amari Burney to give Billy Napier a win in Gators’ debut, 29-26 over No. 7 Utah.
The game was close throughout. Florida took a 14-13 lead into halftime thanks to a pair of touchdowns from Richardson, including a 42-yard scramble.
The score remained until Utah took the lead with 12 seconds remaining in the third quarter. Micah Bernard capped a nine-play, 89-yard drive with a seven-yard touchdown run. But Utah’s two-point try failed, leaving the Gators down by five to start the fourth quarter.
It took Florida less than two and a half minutes to reclaim the lead. Montrell Johnson scored on a 14-yard cut-back run. Then Richardson converted the two-point conversion when he pump-faked two Utes’ defenders into the air, then found a wide-open J. Fraziars to make it 22-19 Florida.
Utah wasn’t done. An 11-play, 73-yard drive that took over six minutes off the fourth quarter clock ended with a Travion Thomas four-yard touchdown run. The Utes led 26-22 with 6:26 to play.
That’s when Richardson took control of the game. On a 14-play drive that took 5:01, Richardson ran for nine yards on a 4th and two call. Then, facing second and goal from the Utah one-yard line, Richardson kept it for the go-ahead score.
For the game, Richardson, who enters the year as a Heisman Trophy hopeful despite only one previous career start, finished 17/24 passing for 168 yards and no interceptions.
But it was up to the Florida defense to clinch the win. Utah drove 69 yards in 10 plays in just 68 seconds before Burney’s interception in the endzone. That set off a celebration on the field and in the stands.
Florida is 1-0 and next will host Kentucky on Saturday, Sept. 10 in the SEC opener for both teams.