COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Graham Mertz threw for a career-best 423 yards and three touchdowns, the last a 21-yard throw to Ricky Pearsall with 47 seconds left, and Florida rallied from 10 points down in the fourth quarter to beat South Carolina 41-39 on Saturday.
The Gators (5-2, 3-1 Southeastern Conference) looked finished when Spencer Rattler connected for his fourth TD to Joshua Simon for a 37-27 lead with 9:11 to play.
But Mertz followed with a pair of 75-yard touchdown drives to pull off the comeback. He hit tight end Arlis Broadingham on a 4-yard scoring pass to cut the lead to 37-34 with 4:40 left.
The Gators forced a punt on South Carolina’s next series and Mertz was off to the races once more. Pearsall caught a 26-yard pass on fourth-and-10, then Eugene Wilson III collected a pass that bounced off a teammate’s hand to reach the Gamecocks’ 16.
Mertz gave a shoulder fake on the game-winning throw and Pearsall was wide open for the catch.
Safety Miguel Mitchell picked off Rattler on South Carolina’s final possession. The Gators took a safety with 4 seconds left for their second straight SEC win.
The comeback ruined a brilliant performance by South Carolina’s Rattler, who passed for 313 yards and four touchdowns.
The Gamecocks (2-4, 1-3) have lost two straight and three of their last four.
The Gamecocks trailed 27-24 on the last of four Trey Smack field goals midway through the third quarter. Two series later, Rattler led the go-ahead drive that included his 27-yard run into Florida territory and a 20-yard scoring toss to Trey Knox for a 31-27 lead.
Rattler was at it again the next time he got the ball, finishing a 70-yard drive with a 33-yard scoring toss to tight end Joshua Simon.
The first half was a classic shootout with the teams trading long drives and big plays. The teams combined for 521 yards and 26 first downs in a half where neither defense could make a stop.
Florida scored on four of its five first-half possessions and Smack’s fourth field goal, from 28 yards, sent the team into halftime ahead 24-21.
Rattler connected with four different receivers on his touchdowns, including a 20-yard toss to tailback Mario Anderson where the Division II transfer leaped over safety Miguel Mitchell to reach the end zone.
Florida: The Gators pulled off the comeback behind Mertz, who came into the game second in the nation in pass completion percentage (80 percent). They shook off a lackluster first 20 minutes of the second half and got hot when it counted most.
South Carolina: During their bye week, the Gamecocks had hoped they could fix what went wrong in a 41-20 loss at Tennessee two weeks ago. It looked they had solved some problems before their pass rush got caught flat-footed at the end and let Mertz and the Gators pull off an unexpected rally.
Florida gets a week off before heading to Jacksonville to play No. 1 Georgia on Oct. 28.
South Carolina starts a two-game road trip at Missouri on Saturday.
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