GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Anthony Richardson came off the bench and led Florida to a 24-21 victory over rival Florida State on Saturday that made the Gators bowl eligible a week after firing coach Dan Mullen.
Richardson replaced turnover-prone Emory Jones early in third quarter and played significant snaps for the first time in a month. The dynamic freshman completed 5 of 7 passes for 55 yards, including a 5-yard touchdown to Justin Shorter that gave the Gators (6-6) some breathing room in a tight game.
Dameon Pierce took over from there, going untouched for a 2-yard score after running around and through the Seminoles (5-7). His touchdown came four plays after Pierce was penalized 15 yards for continuing to participate without a helmet; it was ripped off during an 8-yard run. Pierce finished with 62 yards on the ground.
The Seminoles scored to make it close in the final minutes, but they botched an onside kick. Florida then ran out the clock for their third straight victory in the series.
This one included a pregame skirmish, countless exchanges and numerous mistakes — six turnovers and 21 penalties for 196 yards. Those were hardly surprising considering it was two mediocre teams vying for bowl eligibility and bragging rights.
Florida State, which entered the game as a 2½-point underdog despite winning its previous two games, will miss the postseason for the third time in four years.
The Seminoles trailed 24-7 in the fourth before Treshaun Ward got loose for a 19-yard score. It was one of FSU's few highlights that didn't involve Jordan Travis.
The quarterback battled through a right shoulder injury that twice forced him out of the game. He ran for a 9-yard touchdown in the second and scampered for 34 more in the fourth to set up Ward's score.
He completed 18 of 29 passes for 202 yards, with a touchdown and an interception. He ran 17 times for 102 yards and was sacked four times.
The turning point came on a 61-yard punt. FSU's Ontaria Wilson muffed a fair catch, and Florida's Xzavier Henderson pounced on the loose ball at the FSU 33.
Even more troubling for the ‘Noles, they allowed Florida to convert on a third-and-21 play on the ensuing drive. Richardson found Malik Davis in the flat. Davis slipped a tackle and powered for the first down. Richardson's pass to Shorter came five plays later.
Florida's Greg Knox improved to 2-0 as an interim coach. He won the 2017 TaxSlayer Bowl after Mullen left Mississippi State for Florida.
Florida State: The Seminoles have lost three in a row to Florida for the first time since Bobby Bowden and Urban Meyer roamed the sidelines. FSU can only hope to make up ground with its next recruiting class, which is currently ranked higher than Florida's, and possibility take advantage of some staff consistency under Mike Norvell.
Florida: The Gators don't want to wait long to fill their coaching void. Athletic director Scott Stricklin would like to have Mullen's replacement in place in a matter of days, not weeks. Louisiana's Billy Napier appears to be Florida's top target although the Ragin' Cajuns play next Saturday in the Sun Belt Conference championship game.
Florida State awaits spring practice and Norvell's third season.
Florida has to determine if wants to play in a bowl with a new coaching staff headed to Gainesville soon.