GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — When the final seconds ticked, Florida State receiver Keon Coleman performed a backflip at midfield. It was perfect, just like the Seminoles.
Trey Benson ran for three touchdowns, including a 26-yarder on third down with less than three minutes to play, and No. 5 Florida State beat rival Florida 24-15 on Saturday night to extend its winning streak to 18.
Benson finished with 95 yards on 19 carries — he also got to break the rock in the postgame locker room — and took pressure off new quarterback Tate Rodemaker as the Seminoles (12-0) moved a victory from a potential spot in the College Football Playoff.
“It was an impressive rally for our team,” said coach Mike Norvell, whose team outscored Florida 24-3 after falling behind early.
It was a less-than-ideal finale for Florida (5-7), which lost its fifth consecutive game and will miss out on a bowl for the first time since 2017. Coach Billy Napier’s team had two players ejected, suffered more gaffes on special teams and failed to hold a fourth-quarter lead for the fourth consecutive week.
“We’ve got to learn to finish games,” Napier said.
The ‘Noles trailed 12-0 in the second quarter but were dominant in the second half, holding Florida to 48 yards in the final 30 minutes and minus-15 yards in the fourth quarter. FSU finished with six sacks, including 2 1/2 by standout Jared Verse.
With star quarterback Jordan Travis watching from the visiting athletic director’s suite with his left leg in a walking boot, Rodemaker came up huge when it mattered most. He completed a dart to Ja’Khi Douglas on a fourth-and-3 play from the Florida 34 in the fourth. It set up a short field goal that put the Seminoles ahead for good.
“Everybody hit another physical and mental gear for (Travis),” Verse said. “I looked him in the eye and said, ‘We did that for you.’”
Rodemaker was knocked out of the game for a few snaps on the ensuing possession, but he returned in time to hand off to Benson for the game-sealing score. Kalen DeLoach squashed any thoughts of a late-game miracle when he intercepted Max Brown’s pass on the next drive.
Rodemaker did little to make anyone forget about Travis, a Heisman Trophy candidate whose season ended with a gruesome injury last week against North Alabama. But he did enough to help Florida State beat its in-state rival for the seventh time in the last 10 meetings.
Rodemaker completed 12 of 25 passes for 134 yards.
Brown was less effective, finishing 9-of-16 passing for 86 yards in place of injured starter Graham Mertz (broken collarbone). Montrell Johnson led the Gators with 107 yards rushing.
“There’s no denying that we have work to do,” Napier said. “But what gives me confidence is what I see from the players, the growth I see, their words, their actions, the way they work, the selflessness, the sacrifice. They’re invested.”
With No. 3 Michigan beating second-ranked Ohio State, the Seminoles should move up a spot in the next AP College Football Poll.
Florida State: The Seminoles returned nearly every starter from last year’s team with their sights set on making the CFP. Now they’re one win away despite losing Travis for the season.
Florida: Napier fell to 11-14 after two seasons, including 1-5 in rivalry games, and took a step back in Year 2. The Gators missed a bowl game, a losing season that could, at the very least, shorten the amount of time Napier gets to continue his rebuild.
The Gators scored their first 10 points to two fortunate penalties. Florida State safety Akeem Dent sacked Brown for a 10-yard loss on third down, but an official flagged Dent for a personal foul – a questionable call considering Dent seemed to hit Brown with good form. Instead of having to settle for a short field-goal attempt, Montrell Johnson scored two plays later.
Florida State later executed a fake punt in the second quarter — the latest special teams woe for the Gators this season — but the Seminoles were penalized for delay of game.
Cornerback Jaydon Hill was ejected after the targeting call on Rodemaker. Florida freshman defensive lineman Jamari Lyons was ejected in the second quarter for spitting at Florida State guard Kelondre Jones.
Former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner, received one of the loudest ovations of the night while being honored at the end of the first quarter. Tebow is part of the 2023 College Football Hall of Fame class, which will be inducted during a Dec. 5 ceremony in Las Vegas. He also spoke to the Gators in the locker room before the game.
Florida State plays No. 9 Louisville next Saturday in the ACC title game in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Florida tries to keep its top-five recruiting class intact before next month’s signing day.
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