GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP)—Florida allowed a season-high 22 points in the first quarter before storming back behind a career-best four touchdown passes from John Brantley to secure a 54-32 win over Furman on Saturday.
The win by the Gators (6-5) made them bowl eligible to participate in their 21st consecutive post-season game.
The win was tougher than expected over the Paladins, a Football Championship Subdivision team. Furman (6-5) stunned Florida on its first series, gaining at least 17 yards on three of its first four plays. That led to a 1-yard touchdown run by Jerodis Williams at the 8:31 mark.
Furman added a safety on Florida’s next play when the center snap sailed over Brantley’s head into the end zone for a safety. The Paladins stayed on the attack by scoring touchdowns on its next two possessions as well to open up a 22-7 advantage after one quarter before Florida rallied to win.
Florida answered with three second-quarter touchdown to take the lead for good. After fullback Hunter Joyner scored on a 1-yard dive, Brantley threw for two of his career-high four TD passes. He connected with Andre Debose on a fly pattern for 80 yards and later hit Quinton Dunbar in the back of the end zone from 29 yards out to give the Gators a 27-22 lead at intermission.
After trading field goals to open the second half, both teams scored on a long play. Debose beat Furman cornerback Derrick Murray on a 64-yard catch-and-run for his second long score of the game. On Furman’s first play following the kickoff, Williams broke free of two tacklers at the line of scrimmage and outraced the Florida secondary to the end zone to complete a 77-yard touchdown jaunt.
That pulled the visitors to within five at 37-32 with 30 seconds left in the third quarter. It was as close as the Paladins would come however.
Florida scored 17 points in the fourth quarter to pull away for the win. Caleb Sturgis connected on a 55-yard field goal, a school-record fifth kick of at least 50 yards during his career.
The Gators defense was responsible for the final two scores of the game when it came up with the only two turnovers in the game. De’Ante Saunders stepped in front of a Furman receiver and took an interception 25 yards to the end zone early in the fourth quarter and Jelani Jenkins closed out the scoring, grabbing an errant pass and racing 75 yards untouched to the end zone with four minutes left in the game.
Furman held a 196-72 advantage in total yards after one quarter, but Florida dominated the final three quarters and finished with 453 total yards to 446 for the Paladins. It was Florida’s seventh consecutive win in the series that now stands 7-2.
Florida closes its regular season next Saturday when it hosts state-rival Florida State.