It was a tale of two halves. No not on the field; the Gators dominated there the whole game. The difference came in the stands, at least for me. Two halves of a game, and two halves of the stadium.
When I went into the game, my ticket had me up in the top section on the Georgia side. For those that have never been to this game, and just don’t pay attention to the television, the stadium is split down the middle and the colors clearly show which side is Florida fans and which side is Georgia. And I was on the Georgia side.
That side was fun, for about a quarter.
Midway through the second quarter, the Gators converted a touchdown on a fake field goal to tie it 7-7. As we watched it unfold, every fan around me stood in shock. Granted, I was in shock as well. When Mike McNeely (that’s the kids name by the way) got up and started running I started thinking “Why oh why. It’s not the end of the game, you don’t have the leeway to do this. It’s going to end ba-Oh oh wait oh my gosh holy cow he’s in!”
That was in my head though. The Georgia fans didn’t have much to say either. The only real sound was that of gasped breath and disbelief. They couldn’t believe that; one, Florida, who was supposed to be an easy win had managed to tie the game and so quickly; two, that it had happened on a fake field goal with the hero being a holder who even most Florida fans had never heard of before today.
A little over three minutes off the game clock later, Florida scored again to take their first lead over Georgia since the 3rd quarter of the 2011 game.
There weren’t boos or shouts of disgust. Just pure silence. The phrase, “You could hear a pin drop” is about as cliché as it gets, but I maintain you could have heard a pin drop amongst the Georgia fans at that moment. The cheer from the Gator fans was loud, but the silence was louder.
It stayed that way until the third play of the following drive when Georgia QB Hutson Mason was sacked by Bryan Cox Jr. for a loss of 10 yards. At that point, one lonely fan seemingly attempted to start a Georgia Bulldogs chant. He ended up answering himself every time, but it went like this;
“Georgia…Bulldogs…Don’t have a line of scrimmage.”
At half, I left that side and went in search of the open blue seats at the tip top of the Florida section where the wind was howling louder, harder and colder but the fans were much more fun to be around. And understandably so. They were leading one of their biggest rivals (maybe even the biggest depending on who you ask) who also happened to be ranked No. 11 in the CFB Playoff poll, was in firm control of the SEC East and a double-digit favorite to win the game. The Gators weren’t given a chance by anyone. Even Florida golden boy Tim Tebow picked UGA to win the game on his pregame show SEC Nation. Granted he was going off his opinion as an analyst, not as a fan, but still, it cut deep for folks in Gator Nation hearing him say it. When I found them though, they didn’t care.
12 rows from the edge, six seats were open together, and as I slipped in two more fans were sharing their woes with the fans behind them.
“We were on the Georgia side and couldn’t even cheer after the fake field goal! We had to come over here.”
On this side, the noise never stopped, the cheers kept coming and while there was disbelief it was more out of excitement.
As the game wore on, fans soaked it all in and expressed joy that had been held back for too long. After three years of losing to Georgia it was becoming more and more obvious with each second ticking off the clock that the streak was about to be over. Even when Georgia scored two late touchdowns, no one seemed worried. Florida had the lead and the momentum.
No one got to far ahead of themselves. No one was making reservations for Atlanta or predicting Florida running the table. One lady let everyone know “I don’t care if we lose the rest of our games. We beat Georgia dang it and did it convincingly.”
She echoed a couple of Florida players who had said the same earlier in the week. And she was also right. It was very convincing. Don’t let the final score and naysayers fool you. Georgia is a very good football team. Their number 11 ranking was more indicative of a weaker SEC East than anything. Even without Heisman front-runner Todd Gurley, the Bulldogs were still running all over everyone behind a stout offensive line and freshman back Nick Chubb. Even QB Mason, who is a very traditional pocket passer, game manager, brought four touchdowns into this game. And the defense was ranked 37th in the nation. They’re good. But like the fan said, today was a convincing win for the Gators.
Georgia had been allowing 105 rushing yards coming into this game. Florida finished with 418, most by a Gator team in 25 years. Running back Kelvin Taylor was a major factor in that, gaining 197 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries. The Gator legacy did his father Fred Taylor proud in a game that his dad was once a huge part of and in the stadium that Fred had made a name for himself as a Jacksonville Jaguar legend.
“We were going to pound them and pound them and were going to keep pounding them,” Taylor said. “We weren’t going to be denied. We just kept running hard and everything else happened.”
Georgia had been averaging 265.9 yards per game, third best in the SEC and 15th best in the country. They finished today with 141.
As the game winded down, the video board showed an overhead shot of the stadium. Florida’s side was still full. Georgia’s was not. In fact, it was nearly empty and therefore even quieter than it had been before. That said more than even the scoreboard could and the Florida fans echoed it with loud cheers and laughs.
“We needed this one bad,” running back Matt Jones said afterwards. “We came into this game with a head full of steam from [dropping] this one three times in a row.”
Defensive lineman Dante Fowler never doubted, saying “We felt all week we were going to win the game.”
There are lots of explanations for why Florida beat Georgia. The words heart, fire, motivation and “saving Muschamps job” will get thrown around, as they should. The Gators showed all of that. At the end of the day though, Florida beat their rival and for fans, and even players, that’s all that needs to be said.