Lamical Perine gallops in for the score after nabbing Kyle Trask pass. GatorBait PHOTO BY CHAD RITCH.
By BUDDY MARTIN
MIAMI GARDENS – He always wanted to be a Gator and even took an unofficial trip on a bus from Mobile, Ala. at his own expense in high school to see Gainesville for himself. That’s the way his love affair with the Florida Gators began for Lamical Perine. Last night he could have ridden out of town on the shoulders of his teammates as the hero of the Capital One Orange Bowl, because he was the most valuable player in the game.
On a night when Florida’s offense sometimes spun out on the turns, Perine’s juice and his multiple skills as a receiver and ball carrier capped off a special year for Dan Mullen and keep his team on track.
Perine was a turbine engine in a 549-yard offense with a pair of touchdowns rushing and one in the air from Kyle Trask with his career high 138 yards on the ground. He would have posted four touchdowns except instant replay showed his foot on the boundary at the 1.
Trask ran into feisty, well-coached Virginia defense whose scheme sometimes caused problems but by the second half he found his rhythm and had 10 straight completions on a 307-yard performance.
Perine was one of 21 seniors playing their final game, closing out their careers on a second a straight New Years Six Bowl win with a double digit number of wins – this time 11 of them. It was only the second time in 10 years that a Florida team reached that win total.
The other legacy that this team leaves is that in day when many players skipped their final game so as not to risk their pro career, all but one of those eligible at Florida stepped up to play in their bowl game.
“It’s been a blessing,” Perine said at the post-game press conference. “And another thing. We won the state!”
There is nothing the Gators could have done to compare to the record-shattering performance of LSU vs. Oklahoma because everything else pales in comparison to what the Joe Burrow Express did in flattening the Sooners.
Mullen sold this week as a “cultural experience” for his players, a week when they were “locked in on football” with a fewer academic pressures and a chance to enjoy some of the amenities of South Florida. He made it a point to say, however, that the only two teams in the New Year’s Six bowls from the top public universities were playing each other in the Capital One Orange Bowl.
There is always the danger of a fall-off in the post-season, especially for non-title contending teams or with those loaded with future NFLers, so even though Mullen has continued to demand “relentless effort” as he has all season, there was no way to know how the Gators would answer the call, but Lamical Perine quickly responded with a 61-yard touchdown sprint and a 7-0 lead.
Virginia did not roll over and die, however. Only six times this year has Kyle Trask thrown to the wrong color jersey. But the junior redshirt did it for a 7th when Cavalier Nick Grant being the recipient of the interception. A play later Virginia QB Bryce Perkins cashed in, making Florida pay for the turnover, throwing to receiver Terrell Jana on a 34-yard strike to make it 7-7.
Clearly Trask’s fine touch was not there and it took him a bit to a shake off the dust. He got some help from his teammate Perrine who turned and grabbed a short pass, shook loose a tackler and sprinted into the end zone for a 14-7 advantage. Made you remember how valuable No. 2 has been this season.
Still, Virginia would not go away. With help from more Gator mistakes – an offsides and personal foul by Jabari Zuniga among them – Virginia kept an 88-yard alive until playmaking quarterback Perkins found WR Hasise Dubois on the back end line of the end zone and the 6-3 senior out scrapped Marco Wilson for the and the touchdown. 14-all.
By the second quarter three things were clear.
1--This was looking like an unsettling night for Florida’s otherwise consistent quarterback and kinks needed working out. Before the half Trask already had more tipped passes than any game of the year.
2—Virginia came ready and seemed to have an answer for almost everything in Dan Mullen’s arsenal early in the first half, including the Gators receivers – except for Perine.
There would need to be some mid-game adjustments.
Todd Grantham’s defense finally got some pressure on Perkins and the immediate result was the first sack of the night. Zuniga brought the heat, and Ventrell Miller got home with the sack with an assist by Kent Bogle.
What got them to this point in the season was a reliable defense that brought pressure to some of the best QBs in the game – 46 times the Gators sacked the quarterback. And when they finally connected for Sack No. 47, it was a game changer.
The whole team seemed to remember its identity and even the offensive steam kicked in.
Down the field they went as Trask seemed to get into a rhythm with sharper throws – he even found Van Jefferson on a reception – and before halftime Perine had chalked up his third touchdown of the night.
It was as though the Gators’ muscle memory had finally kicked in.
The transference of power didn’t carry over in a sloppy third quarter with nothing much to show for it except another McPherson field goal and in the shank of the evening without a compelling match to offer national TV, Florida held a lackluster 27-14 command. But the Cavs weren’t ready to roll over.
As two-touchdown underdogs, Virginia kept scratching and clawing its back and after a 75-yard drive to make it a one-score game, 27-20.
What did Mullen have left in his bag of tricks? He came out firing. With a fourth down at their own 44, Mullen called an option by Trask and he pitched it to – who else? – Perine who lunged for the first down. Then in dramatic fashion, Perine dashed 24 yards on a stellar effort to score his fourth touchdown. But wait! The officials said he stepped out at the 1-yard line.
So on the next snap Trask put the ball in the belly of Perine and kept it himself for the score.
Trouble is, nobody could convince the Cavaliers they were the No. 24 ranked team in the country and Florida was No. 8.
So they bounced right back and once again Perkins had them knocking at the goal line.
Once again it was defense that spared the Gators. It had been a challenging evening for freshman cornerback Kaiir Elam, but when it counted most Elam made the play than shut down the stubborn Cavs, reaching high in the air to pick Perkins toss.
But hold on, there was yet some gas in the tank and Bryce threw a touchdown pass on a tackle eligible, but after further review it was ruled an ineligible pass and reversed.
With 3rd and 10 at Florida’s 15 and just 55 ticks on the clock, the game decided, they still couldn’t get Bronco Mendenhall’s team to quit. So Perkins found one more bullet and fired a looping touchdown pass to Dubois, cutting it to a one-score game, 36-28.
Virginia tried an onside kick, but the ball wound up in the possession of sure-handed senior Freddie Swain, a fitting way for the Ocala senior to conclude his stellar career.
At the end of night, it was spirited competition for Florida, maybe not a marquee matchup for a national TV audience, but nonetheless an 11th win for Mullen, who is now 21x25 with two New Years’ Six Bowl wins.
The story of the night was Lamical Perine, who always wanted to be a Gator and wound up going out in style as the most valuable Gator in the Capital One Orange Bowl.