Florida takes advantage of Aaron Murray's third INT, ends losing streak
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- As Chas Henry's field goal split the uprights, Florida coach Urban Meyer dropped to the ground in sheer relief.
The first overtime game in the storied Florida-Georgia rivalry was over. So was the longest losing streak of Meyer's coaching career.
Henry, a punter thrust into kicking duties, drilled a 37-yarder in overtime to lift the Gators to a wild, 34-31 victory over Georgia on Saturday and snap a three-game losing streak.
"This is the biggest win we've had," Meyer said. "We've had some great wins around here and maybe some people would say more important. I'd probably argue that one. This is the biggest one that I can remember, and I've coached a long time."
Aaron Murray's third interception -- his fourth turnover of the game -- nearly ended it on the first series of overtime. Jelani Jenkins tipped Murray's pass over the middle. Will Hill intercepted it and nearly returned it for the winning score. But Hill stepped out at the 4.
The Gators (5-3, 3-3 Southeastern Conference) did little with their turn and settled for Henry's winner. It was a redeeming moment for Henry, who missed three field goals in close losses to LSU and Mississippi State while filling in for injured kicker Caleb Sturgis.
"I knew I let them down one time and I was never going to let that happen again," said Henry, who missed two field goals in a three-point loss to Mississippi State. "That was the most gratifying feeling. I kept saying all week this is my redemption week, my redemption week. It felt great. It's an unbelievable feeling."
Henry's kick was Florida's first game-winner on the final play since 1989. It also extended Florida's dominance in the series. Georgia (4-5, 3-4) has lost 18 of the last 21 meetings. This one was especially damaging.
The Gators stayed in the hunt for the SEC's Eastern Division title and eliminated the Bulldogs from contention.
"Why was it so important?" Meyer said. "Because we got our brains kicked in the last three weeks and we've got to get the ship righted. We needed that. My family needed that. Everybody needed that. A bunch of families in there needed it. That was a good win. Awful grateful."
This one will go down as one of the best in the 95-year history of the series, the first game between the Gators and Bulldogs to need extra time. The difference, much like the last two meetings, was turnovers. Florida had one, while Georgia finished with a season-high four.
The final one was the most crucial. Georgia had been moving the ball at will in the second half and scored on four straight possessions, the last one a 15-yard strike from Murray to A.J. Green in triple coverage. That evened the score with 4:36 remaining after Trey Burton's 51-yard TD scamper.
The Gators had a final chance in regulation, but instead of attempting a long field goal, Meyer settled for OT.
Georgia players stood arm-in-arm on the sideline and swayed back and forth during the coin toss, showing all the confidence of a team that entered with a three-game winning streak. The enthusiasm was short-lived, though.
Murray threw incomplete to Kris Durham on first down, then Caleb King was stopped for a yard on second. Murray's next pass was tipped, then picked.
"I wish I could have it back," said Murray, who threw for a career-high 313 yards and three TDs. "Since I can't, I'm gonna have to learn from it."
Florida started celebrating -- again -- a few plays later.
Henry jumped as soon as the ball left his foot, knowing he hit it straight through the uprights. Meyer waited a second longer to celebrate, then dropped to his hands and knees in relief.
Georgia players walked off in disbelief.
"This one hurts no matter what team we were playing," linebacker Justin Houston said.
Florida's 0-for-October streak was the program's longest since 1999.
If Florida beats Vanderbilt and South Carolina, it would advance to Atlanta for the third consecutive year.
That would be some feat given Florida's struggles this season.
The Gators used their bye week to tweak their floundering offense. They got running back Jeff Demps healthy, worked Chris Rainey into the mix and used several different looks with John Brantley, Burton and Jordan Reed lining up at quarterback.
Burton finished with 110 yards rushing and two touchdowns. He also completed both passes for 26 yards and caught five passes for 35 yards. Brantley completed 16 of 25 passes for 193 yards. He was sacked three times and now has as many interceptions (six) as TD passes this season.
Rainey, suspended the last five games after he was arrested and charged with aggravated stalking, jump-started Florida's attack. He ran for 84 yards and a touchdown and finished with 241 all-purpose yards. His long kickoff return early in the fourth set up Henry's 34-yarder that put Florida ahead 24-16.
The Bulldogs answered quickly, with Murray hitting Orson Charles for a 29-yard score. Murray ran for the 2-point conversion.
But this one was far from over, keeping the 84,444 on the edge of their seats.
"I almost burst into tears after the game," Florida linebacker A.J. Jones said. "It feels great to beat Georgia. We finally clicked on all cylinders and came together."
2022 Southeastern Conference Standings