During Saturday’s game against LSU, the Florida Gators honored Tim Tebow by inducting him into their Ring of Honor and lauded their 2008 national championship team on its 10-year anniversary.
Then the 2018 Gators honored their predecessors by beating LSU — in a stirring, stunning game reminiscent of those glory days.
Florida answered a strong LSU drive in the fourth quarter with one of its own, then got a game-sealing pick-six from Brad Stewart — a New Orleans native who is the only Louisianan on the Gators’ roster — to secure a 27-19 victory over the nation’s No. 5 team.
The game itself took more than a few twists and turns prior to that fourth quarter, though.
Of course it did: It was a football game between Florida and LSU.
LSU struck first with an excellent and efficient first drive in the first quarter, but Florida rallied back in the second quarter, scoring two touchdowns and finishing the half with a 14-10 lead after a lightning-quick drive that answered an LSU march to a field goal.
But though Florida went deep early in the second half and got a red-zone trip for its efforts, Feleipe Franks threw a terrible interception to end that drive and set up a back-and-forth period in which the Tigers inched into better and better field position and ultimately shaved Florida’s lead down to a single point with another field goal.
Yet it was standard field position — thanks to one of punter Tommy Townsend’s lesser punts on the day, one that Tyrie Cleveland could not handle while leaning over the goal line — that LSU ultimately turned into a go-ahead score. Nick Brossette churned for all 75 yards on the ground the Tigers would get on that early fourth-quarter drive, and put LSU up 19-14 after a touchdown and a failed two-pointer.
Florida needed a touchdown to take back the lead.
Before the quarter would end, the Gators had scored two.
The first came on an empty-the-bag drive that showcased Dan Mullen’s full repertoire as a play-caller, including a nifty speed option that Florida has favored over the last two weeks, a great QB power by Franks, and a throwback by reserve tight end Lucas Krull to Franks setting up Lamical Perine’s second rushing touchdown of the day.
The second was just Stewart calling game on a third-down throw by LSU’s Joe Burrow.
Stewart stepped in front of an out route to snag the first interception of Burrow’s LSU career — and end the school-record streak of pass attempts without an pick that he set in the first half — and sprinted to the end zone before a roaring crowd to put Florida up by a full touchdown.
It wasn’t over then, because Vosean Joseph’s punt of that ball to the stands — a beautiful tribute to Brandon Spikes doing the same thing 10 years ago well worth the resulting unsportsmanlike conduct penalty — gave LSU a chance to return a kickoff teed up at Florida’s own 20.
But a booming kick from Evan McPherson meant the Tigers failed to convert that into good field position even with another penalty on the kickoff. And Burrow managed just one completion on LSU’s final offensive possession, converting with a strike on fourth and 19 before finally throwing a second pick — this one to Donovan Stiner, hero of Florida’s win at Mississippi State a week ago.
And thus it was over, and Florida had a seismic win over LSU and a 5-1 record that allows it to dream of bigger, better things than merely rebuilding in a new coach’s first season.
In the shadows of the past, these Gators saw what striving for bigger, better things can do in Gainesville during Saturday’s showdown.
In the dying light of an October Saturday, these Gators showed fans they might be capable of the same striving — and achieving.