JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Even the most disappointing of seasons for the Florida Gators can include a win over Georgia.
Snapping out of the offensive doldrums that saddled the Gators with a rare three-game losing streak, Florida erupted for 450 yards and defeated Georgia 34-31 in overtime Saturday at EverBank Field. Chas Henry, Florida's outstanding punter who has been forced to handle place-kicking chores because of an injury to Caleb Sturgis, drilled a 37-yard field goal to decide the rivalry's first overtime encounter.
Florida coach Urban Meyer dropped to his knees after the kick by Henry, who missed his only attempt in a loss to LSU and both attempts in a loss to Mississippi State.
"It was Chas Henry hitting a field goal," Meyer said. "Think about that for a minute. It's not easy. It was a good moment."
Not as much for Georgia, which dug a 21-7 halftime hole with three first-half turnovers and had only a loss to show for an admirable second half.
Florida improved to 5-3 and can win a third straight SEC East Division title with wins the next two weeks against Vanderbilt and South Carolina, while the Bulldogs dropped to 4-5 and must win two of three against Idaho State, Auburn and Georgia Tech to become bowl-eligible. Georgia fared much better against the Gators compared to the 49-10 and 41-17 debacles of the past two seasons, but the Bulldogs are now 2-8 against Florida under Mark Richt and 3-18 since 1990.
"I don't think anybody can question our effort or our competitive spirit," Richt said. "It's just one of those games somebody had to lose, and unfortunately it was us."
Said Georgia cornerback Brandon Boykin: "This is probably the worst way to lose. On a field goal, you can't do anything but hope the ball doesn't go in."
The Bulldogs came close, but they have yet to defeat Tennessee and Florida in the same season since 1988.
Georgia certainly had its chance in overtime and had to be considered the favorite going in after Aaron Murray rebounded from a jittery first 30 minutes with a 13-of-21, 190-yard, two-touchdown showing in the second half. On third-and-9 from Florida's 24 in the extra frame, Murray's pass intended for A.J. Green was tipped by linebacker Jelani Jenkins and intercepted by Will Hill.
Hill raced 89 yards and nearly decided the outcome himself, but he was pushed out of bounds at the Georgia 4 by Bulldogs receiver Tavarres King.
"It was my worst nightmare, especially to know that my team had worked so hard to come back," Murray said. "I tried to get it out before he made his cut, and I threw it a little bit behind him. It was definitely a throw I wish I could get back."
Murray's first pass of the game was intercepted, and two misfires on the second possession resulted in offensive coordinator Mike Bobo talking to him about settling down. He went 0-for-5 in the first quarter, but his first attempt in the second quarter resulted in a career-long 63-yard touchdown to King that tied the game 7-7.
His second interception should have been caught by tight end Aron White, but Murray did suffer a first-half fumble that ignited the Gators to a 14-0 run to close the half.
Neither team scored in the opening quarter, but the Bulldogs missed an opportunity late in the first when a fumble by Gators backup quarterback Trey Burton was recovered by right guard Maurice Hurt. The recovery occurred after Georgia cornerback Sanders Commings tried to scoop the ball, and the resulting 5-yard gain wound up being the first of an 11-play, 91-yard march that ended with Florida taking a 7-0 lead 19 seconds into the second quarter.
The Gators had just one turnover to Georgia's four.
Georgia also entered overtime with the better kicker, Blair Walsh. Richt said he would have opted for both teams to go against the wind in overtime had there been any kind of breeze, which there wasn't.
"We thought we could score or kick a field goal and go home with this win," Georgia tight end Orson Charles said, "but it didn't happen that way."