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Florida 24, FSU 21: Gators outlast Seminoles in exhausting football-like display

Dameon Pierce scored a touchdown with his helmet off. Other than that? Well, it was a football game. Allegedly.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 27 Florida State at Florida Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Early in the fourth quarter of Florida’s annual meeting with FSU on the gridiron, Dameon Pierce made one of the great plays in Gators history, driving his legs and diving into the end zone for a touchdown despite having his helmet peeled off by a defender in the middle of the play.

For his troubles, Pierce — and Florida — was penalized 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct and “illegal participation,” or the euphemism for “We can’t let players just continue to play football without helmets because our sport needs the veneer of legitimacy against allegations that it is merely a vessel for brain trauma that helmets provide” that has been adopted in conjunction with the powers that be in the sport doing at least minimal things to help protect the long-term safety of the players who risk life and limb playing it.

Pierce would score at the end of the drive, punctuating a fine Senior Day for him and putting a bittersweet cap on a senior season that may always be remembered for what could have been for him and the Gators.

But Florida’s 24-21 win over FSU was far from secured.

Or, well: Florida had scored the game-winning touchdown. It just wouldn’t prove to be one until nearly an hour of real time had elapsed, taking with it a mere 12:36 of game clock.

The Seminoles scored twice in that span, shortening Florida’s lead from 24-7 to the final margin, but never held the ball with a chance to tie after Anthony Richardson’s touchdown throw to Justin Shorter in the third quarter. And over the course of the game, both teams took turns trying to lose the ball — and their minds — over and over.

Emory Jones, in what could be his final start or action at home for Florida, threw a touchdown pass to Kemore Gamble on the game’s first drive and followed it up with three interceptions in the first half, including one in the FSU end zone just before halftime.

Jordan Travis, FSU’s dynamic QB, tossed a pick of his own, and also had the ball squirt out of his hands — if, fortuitously, directly into a teammate’s mitts — on the Seminoles’ final scoring drive, though he threw for 202 yards and a score and ran for another 102 yards and a touchdown on the ground.

Backup McKenzie Milton, pressed into service by an early injury to Travis, threw a pick on one of his two passes — Jones threw one of his three on the game’s next play — while FSU’s Ontaria Wilson muffed a punt that Florida recovered, the latter despite also making a tremendous one-handed catch mere minutes prior.

And both teams combined for a staggering 22 penalties for 216 yards, with offsetting personal fouls — and thus no penalty yardage — also being assessed on multiple occasions. Pair those penalties with an overmatched officiating crew’s reliance on replay despite an inability to discern anything from it in under three minutes, and the men in stripes did much to drain any joy out of watching this contest.

Case in point: FSU’s final TD drive — a 16-play, 96-yard death march — managed to drain just 3:06 of game clock, but took more than 23 minutes of actual time as recorded by humans in the real world to play out, with six penalties being assessed and three separate plays meriting replay reviews. The last one was the first of the day to overturn a call, and rewarded the Seminoles with a touchdown on a throw to Wilson that caught with the ball over the plane of the end zone despite Wilson landing outside of it on the play.

But even on a day that saw as much bad football as a football game can produce, the Seminoles’ onside kick attempt will go down in the annals of futility.

Ryan Fitzgerald’s attempt to hit the extreme top of the ball to get it bounding in his preferred direction backfired, with the FSU kicker instead just grazing the ball lightly enough for it to fall off of its tee and barely travel. He would be flagged for illegal touching, and Florida would take over and be able to kneel out the clock as a result.

The Gators have now won three straight against the Seminoles — and will go more than four full years between defeats — and 6-6 in 2021, which should qualify them for a bowl game.

Whether they actually go to one while their coaching situation is in flux remains to be seen, but I say they should — if only to see if a football game can possibly be less exhausting than this one ended up being.