UF holds off Vir­ginia for mile­stone Orange Bowl win

Orlando Sentinel - - SPORTS TUESDAY - By Edgar Thomp­son

MI­AMI GAR­DENS — Im­prov­ing from 10 to 11 wins would not be easy, coach Dan Mullen warned his Florida Ga­tors dur­ing the off­sea­son.

On Mon­day night, the No. 9 Ga­tors found out what Mullen meant.

A 14.5-point fa­vorite against a Vir­ginia team com­ing off a 45-point loss to Clem­son, the Ga­tors strug­gled to shake the pesky Cava­liers, even­tu­ally pulling away for a 36-28 win dur­ing the Orange Bowl.

With an an­nounced pro-Florida crowd of 65,157 at Hard Rock Sta­dium, the Ga­tors (11-2) rode a bal­anced at­tack and a ca­reer-best night by Lam­i­cal Perine to beat the No. 24 Cava­liers (9-5). Dur­ing his fi­nal game with the Ga­tors, the se­nior tail­back fin­ished with 181 yards from scrim­mage — in­clud­ing a ca­reer-high 138 rush­ing yards — and scored touch­downs on three of UF’s first five pos­ses­sions.

“I’m proud of our guys; we found a way to fin­ish,” Mullen said on ESPN shortly after the win. “… That was a heck of a team we played. You know they were go­ing to play hard the en­tire game.”

Perine did not need long to make his mark, scor­ing on a 61-yard run on the game’s third snap.

Vir­ginia fol­lowed with a three­and-out pos­ses­sion, rais­ing the specter of a Ga­tors’ cake­walk.

In­stead, the Cava­liers found their foot­ing be­hind dy­namic du­althreat quar­ter­back Bryce Perkins and and made a game of it.

Fol­low­ing a Kyle Trask in­ter­cep

tion to Cavs cor­ner­back Nick Grant, Perkins hit Ter­rell Jana, who had a step on UF’s Trey Dean, with a 34-yard touch­down strike. On Vir­ginia’s next se­ries, Perkins show­cased his es­capa­bil­ity to tie the game at 14-14. Elud­ing a swarm of UF de­fend­ers in the back­field, Perkins found top tar­get Ha­sise Dubois in the back of the end zone for a leap­ing catch and 9-yard TD over Marco Wil­son.

But Perkins’ play­mak­ing even­tu­ally was over­shad­owed by Mullen’s play-call­ing.

With the Ga­tors cling­ing to a 17-14 lead, UF con­verted 4th-and-8 from the Vir­ginia 35 when Trask com­pleted an 11-yard pass to Fred­die Swain.

The Ga­tors would ex­tend the lead to 27-14, but Perkins’ third touch­down pass — a 7-yarder to Joe Reed — forced Mullen’s hand again. This time, he made one his gut­si­est calls in two sea­sons as Ga­tors’ coach.

Fac­ing 4th-and-1 from UF’s own 44 early in the fourth quar­ter, Mullen called an run-op­tion for Trask, who pitched it to Perine for a 2-yard gain. A 30-yard catch by Tyrie Cleve­land and 23-yard run by Perine on the next two plays set up a 1-yard touch­down run by Trask, who also had 305 pass­ing yards as UF fin­ished with 549 to­tal.

Trail­ing 33-21, Vir­ginia moved the ball down the field one more time be­hind Perkins. But the Cavs’ elec­tric se­nior made his first big mis­take of the night when he floated a pass that ended up in the hands of UF fresh­man cor­ner Kaiir Elam on the Vir­ginia 3.

The play sealed the Ga­tors’ sec­ond con­sec­u­tive New Year’s Six bowl win and gave them 11 in a sea­son for the first time since 2012.

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