By Dory LeBlanc
Down just 3-0 after the first quarter in Saturday's annual rivalry game, it looked as if the 4-7 Gators could upset the No. 2 team in the country. Then Jameis Winston began to do what has made him the front-runner in this year's Heisman Trophy race and led the Seminoles to an undefeated 12-0 season by beating Florida 37-7.
Florida's biggest and only opportunity to take the lead came in that opening quarter as Louchiez Puriofy intercepted Winston and Trey Burton took the ball 50 yards downfield from the Wildcat formation. The Gators kicking woes continued, however, and Austin Hardin missed his eighth field goal of the season (4-for-12) after attempting a 49 yarder.
Florida State, on the other hand, nailed their 49-yard attempt Roberto Aguayo moved to 16-of-17 in his freshman campaign.
Both of the Seminoles' touchdowns in the first half came on a Winston-to-Kelvin Benjamin connection; first on a 45-yard pass which the sophomore receiver made Brian Poole, Jabari Gorman, and Jaylen Watkins each miss their tackles as he fought his way into the endzone to take a 10-0 Noles lead with 4:24 until the half. On the second, the redshirt freshman nailed a wide-open Benjamin with a 29-yard pass, picking up Winston's 33rd passing TD of the season, tying Chris Weinke's record.
Up 17-0 to start the third, Florida State got the ball first, but were forced to go three-and-out. On the ensuing Gators drive, Sklyer Mornhinweg was sacked from behind and fumbled to give FSU the ball with great field position. Aguayo hit a 40-yarder to extend the Seminoles' lead to 20-0 with 11:02 to play in the quarter.
Five minutes later, the rout was on as Winston-Benjamin hooked up again on a 56-yard pass play, making it easy for Devonta Freeman to run it in from 11 yards out to make it a 27-0 romp.
Even when the Florida offense sustained a drive late in the third, converting a fourth down in Seminoles' territory, a false start penalty backed the Gators up five yards, making the game a continuous uphill battle for the orange and blue.
The Gators did manage to avoid the shutout as Mornhinweg found FB hunter Joyer for a five-yard TD pass to get them on the board, but Florida State answered on their next possession, when Winston completed a 4-yard pass to Benjamin to put the game away at 34-7.
Aguayo tacked on three more points with just over three minutes to play to give the Seminoles the eventual final score 37-7.
Winston finished the game 19-of-31 for 327 yards, three touchdowns and a pick, while Benjamin recorded his best performace to date with nine receptions for 212 yards and three scores.
For the Gators, Mornhinweg set a career-high in completions (20-of-25) and threw for 115 yards with one TD and no interceptions, but will turn the starting QB job back over to Jeff Driskel next season - as long as Driskel can play.
Next up:The Gators will miss their first bowl game in 23 years and look to regroup from their only losing season since 1979.
The Seminoles will prepare for the ACC Championship Game in Charlotte, NC on Saturday, December 7th.