East Carolina went to Gainesville hoping to avenge its loss to Florida in the Birmingham Bowl back in January, but once again the Pirates came up short against the Gators as they fell 31-24 on Saturday night.
With under two minutes left to play in the game, ECU (1-1, 0-0) drove all the way down inside the Gators (2-0, 0-0 SEC) 20-yard line looking for the tying touchdown when the ball slipped out of quarterback Blake Kemp’s hands as he attempted a pass with 12 second left. The fumble was recovered by Florida.
ECU got off to a fast start as first-year starting quarterback Blake Kemp went 5-for-5 on his the first drive of the game, with his last completion being a 31-yard TD pass to Davon Grayson.
That would be the last time the 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.
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 pull 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 Blake 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 that 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 amount of rushing yards East Carolina gained on 22 attempts versus a Florida front four that manhandled its offensive line.
2: How many 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 Blake Kemp attempted to hit Bryce Williams on an out pattern. The ball was picked off by Jalen Tabor and returned 39 yards for a touchdown.