GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) – Florida’s home finale turned out to be a much-needed feel-good story.
There was an emotional Senior Day ceremony. There was an offensive outburst. There was quarterback John Brantley’s touchdown reception. There was walk-on Gary Beemer’s unlikely score.
Maybe more importantly, there was an easy victory — the kind the Gators haven’t enjoyed very often this season.
Jordan Reed accounted for four touchdowns, including an unexpected pass to Brantley, and Florida beat Appalachian State 48-10 Saturday.
The Gators turned in their best offensive performance (547 yards) of the season, snapped a three-game losing streak at home and gave 23 seniors a positive finale in the Swamp.
“I think everybody associated with our program needed that one,” coach Urban Meyer said.
In a season with nearly as many ups as downs, it didn’t matter that it came against a team from the Football Championship Subdivision.
The Gators (7-4) scored touchdowns on four of their first five possessions, led 35-0 early in the third quarter and enjoyed their third lopsided victory of the season. It was the team’s first win at home since Sept. 25 against Kentucky.
“We needed it a lot and we need it to roll into next week,” said center Mike Pouncey, referring to Florida’s game at rival Florida State. “We need to build some of these guys’ confidence back up going into a big-time game, a rivalry game. This is another must-win for us. If we win this one, there will be a lot of proud guys on this team.”
Appalachian State (9-2) lost for the second time in three weeks. Nonetheless, the Mountaineers almost certainly will get a bye in the first round of the FCS playoffs that begin next week.
“(Florida’s) had two or three really tough games, but that happens,” Appalachian State coach Jerry Moore said. “I know one thing: Their kids play hard and they are very well coached and they bounce back.”
The Gators, coming off a 36-14 home loss to South Carolina that knocked them out of contention for the Southeastern Conference’s Eastern Division title, started the day by honoring a senior class that expected much more than a mediocre bowl game.
It was an emotional ceremony for several guys, especially Pouncey and safety Ahmad Black. Both had tears rolling down their cheeks as they ran onto the field, hugged coach Urban Meyer and gave flowers to their mothers.
Black, Pouncey and their teammates responded by making quick work of the Mountaineers.
“We’re playing for pride right now,” Pouncey said. “That’s all we’ve been talking about.”
Florida’s defense set the tone to start the game, then Chris Rainey opened the scoring with a 16-yard run.
Backup quarterback Trey Burton’s 3-yard run made it 14-0 on Florida’s next drive, then it became the Jordan Reed Show.
Reed had three short scoring runs to go along with a 5-yard TD pass to Brantley. It was Brantley’s first career touchdown.
“That’ll be his last one,” Meyer said.
Brantley lined up at receiver, then slipped uncovered into the end zone. Reed rolled right, then tossed the ball to the corner of the end zone. Brantley caught it and kept both feet in play.
“I knew it was coming to me, so I was like, ‘Don’t drop it,”‘ said Brantley, who completed 16 of 22 passes for 222 yards, with an interception. “Coach Meyer came to me after the play and goes, ‘If you would have dropped it, I would have pointed to the locker room. I would have sent you to the dugout.”‘
Reed got an even bigger assist in the fourth. He handed off to walk-on senior Gary Beemer on third-and-goal, then shoved the defensive tackle across the goal line for a 1-yard score with 3:18 to play.
“I grabbed the ball, lowered my head, ran and closed my eyes,” Beemer said. “When I opened them, I had scored a touchdown. … Now I have a great memory to cherish for the rest of my life.”
Beemer’s reaction was classic. His helmet came off at the bottom of the pile and he emerged with his long hair flying in the breeze and the ball clutched in his arms. He hustled back to the sideline, where coaches and teammates enthusiastically awaited.
“My last touchdown was never ago,” Beemer said. “I’m still trying to process it and make it a reality right now.”
Despite four losses and all the disappointment, Florida can salvage its season with a victory next week in Tallahassee.
“The biggest rivalry in college football is this week,” said Meyer, whose teams have won six in a row in the series.