In what was prophesied to be arguably the biggest kickoff event of the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s (NCAA) 2019-2020 college football season, the University of Miami’s (UM) Hurricanes and the University of Florida’s (UF) Gators put forth an epic performance for the ages and, considering that the rivalry between these two football powerhouses has endured well over 80 grueling years, to make such a statement is a bold move to say the least.
While the names of the two universities alone headlining the must-watch contest was enough to generate unparalleled national buzz among college football fans, it is impossible to underscore the way the hype materialized itself on Saturday Aug.24, when Hurricanes and the Gators went head-to-head at the Camping World Kickoff Event, televised by ESPN and held in Orlando, Florida.
Orlando, being in the center of the state, is commonly referred to as the boundary line for each of these teams’ respective fanbases; fans to the south generally support UM, whereas those to the north rally for UF. For this very reason, there was no better location for the battle for Florida football supremacy to occur, and over 66,000 fans from all over the state came to cheer for their preferred team.
Coming off of a dominant 10-3 season in 2018, the UF Gators were ranked as the eighth best team in the country per the official NCAA College Football Power Rankings. The Hurricanes, despite having a winning year that saw them go 7-6 throughout the regular season, were not even ranked in the Associated Press’s (AP) Top 25 teams, so there was an inevitable amount of tension between the two teams.
With a kickoff time set for 7:00 P.M., the stage was set for the rivals to battle in the early evening.
Once the game began, the ‘Canes attacked the Gators’ formidable defense with a sense of purpose, completing eight consecutive plays without ever reaching a fourth down, four of which were completed pass plays for over 10 yards each. On their first fourth down on the game, a five-yard penalty on the Hurricanes pushed them back to Florida’s 19-yard line. However, the penalty would prove to be ineffectual as the ‘Canes would tally three points on the scoreboard with a 36-yard field goal from Bubba Baxa with 9:37 left in the first quarter.
Now facing a 3-0 deficit after a relentless attack from the Hurricanes, the Gators retaliated in a tremendous way. After failing to reach a first down on their first three attempts, Gators quarterback Feleipe Franks completed a 66-yard pass to Kadarius Toney, taking the Gators from their defensive end of the field to the touchdown line. After a good extra point kick from Evan McPherson, the Gators now shocked the U with a 7-3 advantage.
Scoring would remain stagnant throughout the remainder of the first quarter, but the U would strike back halfway through the second quarter with a 42-yard field goal by Bubba Baxa that was made possible by a fumble that was recovered by Shaquille Quarterman on Miami’s 48-yard line, narrowing the deficit to 7-6.
Nearly two minutes afterwards, following a failed drive by the Gators, UM completed a 90-yard drive that consisted of 12 plays, concluding with a magnificent 25-yard pass from Hurricane quarterback Jarren Williams to Brevin Jordan that gave the U a comfortable lead by a score of 13-7.
A discouraging first half for the Gators prompted the revival of their offensive and defensive forces in the second half, and they asserted their “eight best team in the country” status with authority. The Gators wasted no time digging themselves out of their hole, accumulating 10 points in the third quarter off of a touchdown and a successful field goal attempt, all while keeping UM scoreless and on their toes throughout the third quarter.
“I was really impressed with how hard UF fought throughout the whole game, even when the odds were stacked against them,” junior Jose Gonzalez said.
At the dawn of the fourth quarter, with UM trailing by a score of 20-17, the contest could have easily been anybody’s game. With four separate occasions where the in-game score tipped in favor of the other team, the fans surely got their money’s worth. The final quarter of the game, however, proved to be the most dramatic and energetic of them all.
Starting the quarter on their end of the field at the 39-yard line, UM looked to, once again, take the lead over a resilient Gators defense. Despite surrendering a four-yard loss on a running play, a penalty was placed against UF for “unsportsmanlike conduct”, which granted the Hurricanes a 15-yard advantage and a first down, placing them at mid-field with 14:35 left in the game. On the very next play, a masterfully executed run by DeeJay Dallas resulted in a touchdown for the Hurricanes, and they took yet another lead over the Gators, now by a score of 20-17.
Once the ball was punted to the Gators, it would take very little time for the ball to return to the hands of the ‘Canes. On the second play of the drive, Feleipe Franks’s pass was intercepted by Amari Carter, who would take the ball for 22 yards give the Miami offense the ball at Florida’s 25-yard line.
At this very moment, the hearts of UF fans plummeted, and those of UM fans were elated. Despite their proximity to a touchdown, the Gators’ defense turned it up to fourth gear and held UM to only a fourteen-yard gain. By the time the ‘Canes had reached fourth down, they were 11 yards away from the touchdown line. Choosing to score via the the field goal, kicker Bubba Baxa attempted yet another three-point play, but missed a fairly easy kick of just 26 yards of distance.
“We had so many ways to win the game, and yet, we still lost,” senior Frank Bianco said.
This one mistake proved to be detrimental, not only to the overall outcome of the game, but to the Hurricanes’ sense of morale. Following UM’s missed opportunity to supply their lead with three reinforcement points, the UF offense was brought to life, covering 80 yards across four plays and retaking the lead with a touchdown. Now holding a commanding lead by a score of 24-20 with the time dwindling down to its final minutes, the Gators asserted their dominance on the field defensively and solidified themselves as one of the elite college football organizations in the country.
The rivalry between the University of Miami and the University of Florida has long been a spectacle to watch, and their most recent clash proved to be no different. Despite the Hurricanes’ valiant effort throughout the entirety of the contest, the Gators’ formidable defense in combination with its relentless offense overcame UM’s strong performance. While the Gators may have won the battle, the war goes on, and so does the college football season. Be sure to catch the Miami Hurricanes and Florida Gators in their next games against the University of North Carolina and the University of Tennessee-Martin, respectively, when they both resume play on Sept. 7!