GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Feleipe Franks silenced the home crowd twice after touchdown runs, seemingly sending a message after getting benched last week and booed earlier in the game, and No. 19 Florida rallied to beat South Carolina 35-31 Saturday and end a two-game losing streak.
Franks dived across the goal line on a fourth-down play from inside the 1-yard line with 4:09 to play, putting the Gators (7-3, 5-3 Southeastern Conference, No. 15 CFP) ahead for the first time and for good. Florida overcame a 17-point deficit in the second half.
C.J. Henderson ended the Gamecocks’ comeback attempt by picking off Jake Bentley.
But Franks was the player of the game, even if he thrived in a villain role. The sophomore put his fingers to his lips while celebrating with teammates, the kind of gesture usually seen from visitors.
Franks completed 15 of 21 passes for 161 yards and a touchdown. He also ran for two scores a week after getting pulled for the third time in two seasons.
Coach Dan Mullen opened up the quarterback competition, but backup Kyle Trask broke a foot in practice Wednesday and is out for the season. That left Franks as Mullen’s only viable option.
Fans expressed their displeasure after consecutive plays on the first series in which Franks fumbled and badly overthrew a receiver.
South Carolina (5-4, 4-4) scored touchdowns on its first two possessions and looked like it would roll in the Swamp.
But Franks and the Gators woke up and rallied, preventing former coach Will Muschamp from getting a victory in his second trip back to Florida Field since getting fired.
Jordan Scarlett ran for 159 yards. Lamical Perine added 107 yards and two scores on the ground.
Between Scarlett, Perine and Franks, the Gators were able to do what they do best: run the ball and control the clock.
It surely helped they were playing against a South Carolina defense that’s far from one of Muschamp’s best.
Although Muschamp will forever be tied to Florida, he won’t have many connections to his former school after this game.
The Gators have six fifth-year seniors who signed with Florida before Muschamp’s final season in 2014. Florida also has one more payment to Muschamp to fulfill his severance, a $787,500 deposit later this month. That will complete his $6.3 million buyout.
South Carolina: After being up 17 points late in the third quarter, the Gamecocks found themselves in another nail-biter late. It was the team’s fifth consecutive game decided by four points or less. They are 3-2 in those.
Florida: The Gators still have hopes of making a big-time bowl game and reaching 10 wins for just the second time in the last six seasons.
Florida was without three key players: guard Brett Heggie, safety Brad Stewart and receiver Freddie Swain. Heggie and Swain were injured last week against Missouri. Stewart has missed two of the last three games.
Coach Dan Mullen sounded unconcerned about the injuries on Monday, when he said, “We’ve got a bunch of guys banged up and battered, but on the training report there’s nothing that should prevent anybody (from playing).”
South Carolina hosts Chattanooga of the FCS, a welcome break after eight consecutive conference games.
Florida concludes a three-game homestand against Idaho, also an FCS team. It’s the Gators’ home finale and senior day.
By MARK LONG , Associated Press