COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Florida holds off Virginia to win Orange Bowl

  • Florida’s Lamical Perine runs to the end zone for a touchdown against Virginia during the first half of the Orange Bowl on Monday, at Hard Rock Stadium. (MICHAEL LAUGHLIN/Sun Sentinel/TNS)
    Florida’s Lamical Perine runs to the end zone for a touchdown against Virginia during the first half of the Orange Bowl on Monday, at Hard Rock Stadium. (MICHAEL LAUGHLIN/Sun Sentinel/TNS)
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MIAMI GARDENS — It took 40 seconds for Florida to grab momentum Monday in the 2019 Capital One Orange Bowl.

And it took a fourth-quarter touchdown to put the game away.

After Virginia marched six plays in 75 yards to pull within one score, 27-21, UF responded with their sixth scoring drive of the night. Quarterback Kyle Trask scored from a yard out and the No. 9 Gators held on for a 36-28 win before 65,157 at Hard Rock Stadium.

It marks the second straight victory in a New Year’s Six Bowl for Florida, and the program’s first 11-2 season since 2012. The Gators are still undefeated (4-0) in the Orange Bowl as well.

"Just under a year ago, this team was born, and we talked about going from four wins to 10 wins was special, but to go from 10 wins to 11 is going to be a lot harder, and those guys bought into it," UF coach Dan Mullen said.

"We haven't got to where we need to be yet to compete, to go win an SEC and a National Championship, but they're certainly living up to that Gator standard of being one of the best teams and best programs in the country."

On the third play from scrimmage, UF running back Lamical Perine broke free and blew by Cavaliers safety Chris Moore for a 61-yard touchdown. The senior tailback went out in style with a career-high 138 yards on 13 carries, five catches for 43 yards and three total scores.

"He's one of the top running backs in the SEC. He is. I think you saw that tonight," Mullen said. "Everyone gets caught up in, 'Well, his stats say this.' But you know what, you look at every time we needed a big run during the season, he came up with a lot of big runs."

The No. 24 Cavaliers (9-5) intercepted Trask on UF’s second drive and scored the next play, a 34-yard touchdown pass from Bryce Perkins to Terrell Jana. Perine quickly broke the tie with a 16-yard score, his fifth TD catch this year.

The Cavaliers answered with a 14-play, 88-yard drive, capped off by Perkins’ nine-yard TD pass Hasise Dubois on 3rd-and-8. The Gators reeled off another drive of 70-plus yards, but couldn’t find the end zone and settled for a 23-yard field goal by Evan McPherson.

Following a three-and-out by Virginia, UF reached the red zone again and Perine scored his third touchdown from 10 yards out, giving him 102 in the first half on five carries. Trask kept the series alive on 4th-and-8 with an 11-yard completion to Freddie Swain, a crucial play in the game.

"I think this win is huge, not only for the program but also this team and the seniors that bought in when Coach Mullen first got here," Trask said. "We just continued to grind and get better every single week and here we are winning the Orange Bowl. That's pretty incredible."

Florida started the second half with back-to-back punts, the latter traveling just 28 yards and setting Virginia up at its own 47-yard line. However, the Cavaliers couldn’t capitalize on the field position.

UF cornerback Marco Wilson broke up a potential touchdown pass and defensive end Jonathan Greenard sacked Perkins on third-and-long, forcing his third fumble of the season. That led to Evan McPherson’s second field goal, a 49-yarder, to give the Gators a 27-14 lead at the end of the third quarter.

"This is the biggest bowl game I've been in," said Greenard, a graduate transfer from Louisville. "I've never won a bowl game either, so this is my first win and it felt great to go out with these boys. It's everything. So I thank Coach Mullen, Coach (Todd) Grantham, everybody for bringing me in."

Virginia wouldn’t go away, though, Perkins hit Tanner Cowley for a 52-yard pass and cut the deficit to six points with his 7-yard strike to Joe Reed on third down.

After a 30-yard reception by Tyrie Cleveland and Perine’s 23-yard run, Florida went back up two scores on Trask’s keeper. UF freshman cornerback Kaiir Elam picked off Perkins on the ensuing possession to prevent the comeback. McPherson added a 42-yard field goal and Virginia’s Dubois caught another late touchdown.

Trask finished 24/39 for 305 yards and rushed eight times for 37 yards, while Perkins had 323 yards and four touchdowns through the air on 28/40 passing.

"Every win is a big accomplishment, so I just thank God we just won," Elam said. "Next year I don't expect anything less than a National Championship. That's just me. I feel like we just need to keep improving, don't take any steps back, and we'll be there."