University of Florida

Gators heading down the stretch with ‘us-against-the-world’ mentality

Florida quarterback Austin Appleby (12) celebrates after defeating LSU in an an NCAA college football game in Baton Rouge, La., Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016. Florida won 16-10.
Florida quarterback Austin Appleby (12) celebrates after defeating LSU in an an NCAA college football game in Baton Rouge, La., Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016. Florida won 16-10. AP

Florida running back Jordan Scarlett wasn’t worried as Saturday’s game against LSU wound down to the final seconds.

Quarterback Austin Appleby couldn’t keep his eyes off the final play.

Left tackle David Sharpe said he was about to throw up as the madness ensued.

Three offensive starters, all critical pieces to Florida’s 16-10 win over LSU that sealed the Gators’ second consecutive Southeastern Conference East Division title, were rendered useless on the final play.

They were spectators to their defense as LSU’s offense made a final march down the field… hoping the defense could come up with a clutch play once again as it has most of the season.

It did, holding the Tigers on a goal-line stand and clinching UF’s second trip to the SEC championship game in as many years under coach Jim McElwain.

“We said that it’s us against the world,” Appleby said. “We’re all we’ve got, and we’re all we need. To come into a place like this and turn it into The Swamp, I’m so proud of the way our fans came out and I’m so proud of the energy that we brought from the first snap to last snap.”

And now that the first big test to close out the season is finished, Florida has two more to go.

The Gators (8-2, 6-2) — who moved up eight spots to No. 13 in the AP Top 25 poll (and No. 23 in College Football Playoff rankings) — now travel to Tallahassee to face Atlantic Coast Conference rival No. 15 Florida State before traveling to Atlanta to face No. 1 Alabama for the SEC crown.

With an upset road win under their belts — Florida’s first against a team ranked higher than it on the road since Oct. 20, 2007 (No. 14 UF defeated No. 8 Kentucky 45-37 in Lexington) — the Gators certainly aren’t lacking confidence as they get ready to close out the season with nothing to lose and almost everything to gain.

“It’s definitely fun to make memories like this with these type of guys,” junior cornerback Quincy Wilson said. “We just gotta keep taking care of business.”

The Gators took care of business on Saturday against LSU.

Appleby went 7 for 17 for 144 yards and a touchdown, his performance highlighted by a 98-yard touchdown pass to Tyrie Cleveland on UF’s first drive of the third quarter.

Scarlett ate up the clock and the LSU defense in the second half, ripping off three carries of at least 10 yards in the second half and finishing the game with 108 yards on 22 carries.

The defense, a group missing four veteran starters, held LSU at bay when it mattered most, despite giving up 420 yards.

After the Tigers scored a touchdown on their opening drive, UF limited LSU to just a field goal on its final eight drives — three of which made it inside the Florida 10.

“Savage mode. It’s straight savage mode, man,” defensive lineman CeCe Jefferson said. “It’s do or die. … This group of guys, man, we’ve been through a lot from the seniors down to the underclassmen. We just remind each of other of that, and success happens.”

And with the win against LSU under his belt, McElwain is hoping he and his Gators can keep the success rolling.

“There’s a lot of things you can look back and you can question and all that stuff,” McElwain said, “but the last time I checked the scoreboard said the Gators had more points than the Tigers. So that’s pretty cool.”