GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Georgia Southern scored three out of five possessions during one key stretch in the middle of the game and pulled off a 26-20 upset against Florida — assuring the Gators will not be going to a bowl game for the first time since NCAA probation in 1990.
It's the first non-sanction year in which the Gators (4-7) have not gone to a bowl since an 0-10-1 season in 1979. Florida extended its losing streak to six consecutive games — the longest streak since the winless '79 team.
Georgia Southern (7-4) accumulated 429 yards on the ground — the fourth-highest rushing total by an opponent in Florida history. Nebraska ran for 524 in the 1996 Fiesta Bowl.
It was the first win by the Eagles over a FBS school in 21 tries. Georgia Southern had lost 19 scholarship players to injuries this season.
Florida led 10-7 at halftime but was actually saved by Georgia Southern mistakes. The Gators' Frankie Velez hit a 27-yard field goal with 8:34 left in the first quarter for the game's opening points.
Florida had a first-and-goal from the 10 but the inept offense led to a no gain on a first down run and two incomplete passes.
The Gators made it 10-0 when Skyler Mornhinweg, starting for the second week in a row with Tyler Murphy nursing a shoulder injury, hit Solomon Patton with a 3-yard TD pass in the first two minutes of the second quarter. It was Mornhinweg's first career touchdown throw and Patton's fifth TD catch of the year.
But Georgia Southern killed its first scoring drive, marching from its own 30 to the Florida 19 where fullback Irving Huggins gained 16 yards before losing the ball at the Florida 3.
Freshman linebacker Jarrad Davis forced the fumble and Darrin Kitchens recovered it to ruin a certain Eagles' scoring chance which would loom before the half ended.
Eagles quarterback Kevin Ellison scrambled free down the right sideline for a 45-yard touchdown with 2:01 left in the first half.
At the outset of the second half, Georgia Southern put together a five-play drive over 75 yards to go ahead 14-10. Ellison scored from a yard out on fourth down with 12:24 still left in the third quarter. Williams Banks' 3-yard run finished to complete a 49 yard drive over eight plays to make it 20-10 with 32 seconds remaining in the third.
Velez's 22-yard field and 46-yard TD pass from Mornhinweg to Solomon with 5:41 left in the game tied it back up but the Eagles went 75 yards in five plays to regain the lead at 26-20 with 2:44 to go on Jerick McKinnon's 14-yard run. The extra point was wide right.
Florida got to the Georgia Southern 24. A 17-yard pass to Quinton Dunbar got the ball but Mornhinweg threw incomplete on first down. The Gators called time out with 25 seconds left in the game.
A pass to Patton moved the ball to the Eagles' 16, two yards shy of a first down with 14 ticks left on the clock. UF then called its final time out. Mornhinweg's pass fell incomplete in the end zone to bring up fourth down with eight seconds remaining and on fourth down the Eagles knocked a pass down inside the Gators' five to end the game.
David Jones also writes for Florida Today.