GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Even though they were well-aware that their chances of defeating the Florida Gators Saturday at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium were not very good, the Colonels were still determined to put up a fight.
And they were prepared to dig deep into their bag of tricks.
“We just felt like their defense was so good that we had to try to do some things in the special teams to generate some points,” EKU coach Dean Hood said. “We wanted to play to win the game. We didn’t feel like we were going to beat the University of Florida kicking field goals.”
The Colonels (9-3, 6-2 OVC) certainly tried to make things happen.
They faked a punt.
They faked a field goal.
They also tried an on-side kick.
But, none of that worked.
The Gators (6-4, 4-4 SEC) scored 17 first-quarter points and went on for a 52-3 win. EKU finished with just 142 yards of total offense and would have been shutout for the first time in eight years if Andrew Lloyd hadn’t connected on a 51-yard field goal in the first quarter.
“We told our guys to be ready for whatever comes up,” Florida coach Will Muschamp said of EKU‘s trick plays. “There are going to be some things we aren’t prepared for, but you are going to have to adjust on the fly. I’m pleased with how we responded.”
Even though they really had very little to gain from the result of the regular-season finale, the EKU coaching staff started most of its first-string players against the Gators.
The Colonels will almost certainly receive an at-large bid to the Football Championship Playoffs. The field for the 24-field will be announced at 11 a.m. today on ESPNU.
Still, the Colonels didn’t approach the game as meaningless.
“We couldn’t execute. So, the outcome was the outcome,” EKU quarterback Bennie Coney said. “The one thing I like is that the guys played hard. We are not going to lay down for anyone. We wanted to win just as much as they did.”
The Gators took a 3-0 lead when Austin Hardin hit a 48-yard field goal less than three minutes into the game.
Just more than a minute later, EKU tried a fake punt on fourth down from its own 18-yard line. Punter Keith Wrzuszack came up one yard short and six plays later Kelvin Taylor scored on a 13-yard run to put Florida up 10-0.
“I put our defense in a bad spot,” Hood said of the fake punt.
The defense kept the Colonels in the game for most of the first half.
But a pair of big plays helped the Gators take control.
After Lloyd’s field goal got EKU on the board, Florida responded one play later with a 70-yard touchdown pass by Treon Harris to Quinton Dunbar.
Florida took advantage of a fumble by EKU’s Dy’Shawn Mobley to push its lead to 24-3 in the second quarter on a 19-yard pass from Harris to Demarcus Robinson.
A 54-yard pass from Harris to Robinson set up another touchdown, which gave the Gators a 28-point lead (31-3).
“The defense played well. The run defense was stout,” EKU senior safety Brandon Stanley said. “Our front seven played hard. They came out and were physical and didn’t shy away from contact.”
The Gators had 195 yards of total offense in the first half, more than half of which came on those two big pass plays. The Colonels actually had more first downs (8 to 7) than Florida in the first half, despite amassing just 100 yards of total offense.
“They didn’t really surprise us. They did what we thought they were going to do,” Stanley said. “It just came down to a couple of big plays.”
Coney started at quarterback for EKU. He completed 8-of-19 passes for 43 yards.
Jared McClain came on in the second quarter and completed 3-of-6 passes for 5 yards and also had 15 yards rushing on four attempts.
Redshirt freshman Barton Mann played the entire second half. He was 3-of-3 for 15 yards.
Mobley, the Ohio Valley Conference’s leading rusher, carried the ball eight times in the first half for 23 yards. In the second half, he joined many of the starters on the sidelines.
“Once it looked like there was no way in Hades we were going to win this game, then we started rewarding our (younger) kids,” Hood said. “It’s the smart thing to do once you know you can’t win the game. You don’t want to get someone hurt.”
Jared Sander had a team-best 25 yards rushing on two attempts. J.J. Jude had eight carries for eight yards.
Scott Daniel had a team-best five catches for 18 yards. Mobley had two catches and Jeff Glover had two catches for 30 yards.
Glover appeared to score a touchdown in the second quarter on a 29-yard reception, but it was ruled incomplete after video review.
Sophomore receiver Devin Borders was held without a catch for the first time this season.
“We planned for them just like we plan for anyone else,” Borders said. “They just out-played us. Obviously, we are not happy with it, but it is what it is.”
With the win, the Gators became bowl eligible for the first time in two years.
The victory also gave Muschamp, who has announced he is stepping down after the season, a rare chance to celebrate.
“It will hit me when the season is over,” Muschamp said. “But, I’ve already switched gears to next week.”
The Colonels are also moving forward.
The FCS Playoffs will start next Saturday and the Colonels hope to be able to play host to a first-round playoff game at Roy Kidd Stadium.
“That’s our real focus now,” Borders said of the playoffs. “This was nice, but its time to turn the page.”