GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Anthony Richardson ran for three scores in his second career start, including a 2-yard scamper with 1:25 remaining, and Florida upset seventh-ranked Utah 29-26 on Saturday night to get the Billy Napier era off to a rousing start.
Richardson was the best player on the field most of the night. He really showed up down the stretch, although linebacker Amari Burney was the guy who sealed the victory for the Gators.
Burney intercepted Cam Rising’s second-down pass into the end zone with 17 seconds remaining. That set off a wild celebration that surely will last long into the night.
Richardson took a knee from there, and the Gators stormed the field to revel in their 33rd consecutive victory in home season openers. That’s the longest current streak in the nation.
Richardson ran 11 times for 106 yards and was never stopped for a loss. He completed 17 of 24 passes for 168 yards and played turnover-free football.
His best play? He had an electrifying 2-point conversion early in the fourth quarter that put the Gators up 22-19. He juked former Florida teammate Mohamoud Diabate with a pump fake and then sprinted right by fellow Utah linebacker Lander Barton before throwing a strike to Ja’Quavion Fraziers in the back of the end zone.
Utah answered and took the lead briefly, but Richardson did it again. He moved the chains with a third-down throw and again with a fourth-down run, both of which set up his game winner.
Rising moved the Utes in position to steal one on the road for a team that entered the season with its highest preseason ranking in school history. But Rising’s last pass was his most important — or costly — of the night.
Rising completed 22 of 32 passes for 216 yards, with a touchdown and the turnover. He also ran for 91 more.
Tavion Thomas had 115 yards rushing and a score for Utah, which caught a break when it rained about two hours before kickoff and erased whatever advantage Florida had with sweltering summer heat and humidity.
Utah: The defending Pac-12 champions showed resiliency on the road, battling back to take the lead in the fourth quarter. Rising, Thomas and Micah Bernard were as good as advertised on the ground, and Brant Kuithe (9 catches for 105 yards and a TD) showed why he’s considered one of the best tight ends in the country. Despite the loss, the Utes have enough talent and experience to still be a factor in the College Football Playoff.
Florida: The Gators don’t look like they’ll in rebuilding mode for long. Napier’s recruiting has jumped in the last two months and a game like this could do wonders to help him close the gap on Southeastern Conference heavyweights Alabama and Georgia.
MILLION DOLLAR HANDSHAKE
Napier showed a bit of modern-day coaching nuance in the first half when he left his team during a timeout to offer millionaire booster Hugh Hathcock a handshake and a partial hug. Hathcock is one of the program’s top donors.
Hathcock, who owns Velocity Automotive Solutions, gave the University Athletic Association a $12.6 million gift in April. Some of the money will be used to renovate Florida’s aging basketball practice facility and some is sure to help the football program. The Gators plan to name a suite tower at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium and its basketball complex after Hathcock.
Utah: hosts Southern Utah next Saturday. The in-state teams played once previously, with the Utes winning 24-0 in 2016.
Florida: continues its tough opening stretch when it hosts No. 20 Kentucky to being SEC play next Saturday night.
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