East Carolina went to Gainesville hoping to avenge its loss to Florida in the Birmingham Bowl in January, but once again the Pirates came up short, falling 31-24 to the Gators on Saturday night.
With less than two minutes to play in the game, ECU (1-1, 0-0 AAC) drove inside the 20-yard line of the Gators (2-0, 0-0 SEC), looking for the tying touchdown. But the ball slipped out of quarterback Blake Kemp’s hands as he attempted a pass with 12 seconds left, and Florida recovered the fumble.
ECU got off to a fast start as Kemp, in this first year as starting quarterback, went 5-for-5 on his first drive of the game, with his last completion being a 31-yard TD pass to Davon Grayson.
But that would be the last time the ECU offense looked crisp. The vaunted Gators secondary, which was minus All-American CB Vernon Hargreaves III (leg), clamped down on all the ECU receivers not named Isaiah Jones (14-135 TD), while Florida’s front seven limited the Pirates to 13 rushing yards as the Gators improved to 2-0 on the year.
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A Kemp 27-yard TD pass to Jones gave the Pirates a brief 17-14 lead in the third quarter, but Florida answered with a six-yard TD pass from Grier to Demarcus Robinson and a 39-yard pick-six by Jalen Tabor on the ensuing possession to take a 24-14 lead.
After a scoreless second quarter, East Carolina took a 14-10 lead with 10:43 left in the third, but Florida responded by scoring an offensive and defensive touchdown in less than five minutes to pull ahead, 24-14. Gators quarterback Will Grier connected with Demarcus Robinson for a six-yard score, before Florida corner Jalen Tabor picked off a Kemp pass on third down and returned it untouched 39 yards for a touchdown.
Three who mattered
Jalen Tabor: Florida’s sophomore cornerback stepped up in the absence of star cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III, picking off a Will Grier pass and returning it 39 yards for a touchdown during a pivotal stretch in the third quarter.
DeAndre Goolsby: The 6-4, 238-pound Florida tight end racked up a team-high 94 yards and one touchdown on only 3 receptions.
Isaiah Jones: The Pirates wide receiver was the lone consistent factor for the ECU offense and pulled in 14 passes for 135 yards and 1 touchdowns.
Three key numbers
4: The number of quarterbacks who participated in Saturday night’s game. East Carolina played Blake Kemp (34-54-1, 333, 1 TD) for a majority of the game, but gave backup QB James Summers (3-4, 13) a couple of snaps, while Florida rotated between freshman Will Grier (10-17-1, 151, 2 TDs ) and sophomore Treon Harris (5-8, 54).
13: The rushing yards East Carolina gained on 22 attempts versus a Florida front four that manhandled its offensive line.
2: Field goals inside of 40 yards that Gators kicker Austin Hardin missed.
After allowing Florida to take a 17-14 lead on a Demarcus Robinson six-yard TD in the third quarter, ECU faced 3rd-and-12 on the ensuing possession when Kemp attempted to hit Bryce Williams on an out pattern. The ball was picked off by Tabor and returned 39 yards for a touchdown.