Deondre Francois had time to throw.
Facing third and 10 near midfield, Florida State’s redshirt freshman quarterback fired a pass up the middle of the field to junior Travis Rudolph, who evaded a pair of Florida defenders and waltzed into the end zone for a 46-yard touchdown that put FSU up by 11 points in the third quarter.
“That was a very critical moment in the game,” Francois said. “... I held it as long as I could and I hit him in stride.”
FSU hit its stride from there.
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There was more than 20 minutes left in the game, but it was already out of reach for the Gators.
No. 15 FSU defeated No. 13 Florida 31-13 on Saturday in front of an announced crowd of 78,342 at Doak Campbell Stadium. It was the Seminoles’ fourth straight win over the Gators and sixth win in the last seven meetings.
“We emphasize [the rivalry], but we don't over-emphasize it,” said FSU coach Jimbo Fisher, whose Seminoles have won their last four games each against UF and Miami. “I mean, everybody wants to win. Our guys do a great job of caring to win and I think that's the key. We hype it. It's important, but at the end of the day, it's still one game and our guys understand that.”
Florida State fullback Freddie Stevenson put the nail in the coffin one drive later with a 27-yard touchdown run during which he broke multiple tackles before rumbling into the end zone.
Francois finished the game with 138 passing yards on 15-of-26 passing, the passing touchdown to Rudolph and an 8-yard rushing touchdown with a minute to go to close out scoring.
As for FSU running back Dalvin Cook, the former five-star recruit out of Miami Central High playing what will more than likely be his final home game as a college athlete? He had 152 yards on 25 carries. It was his third consecutive 100-yard rushing game, his eighth of the year and his 21st in his three-year career.
As he ran the ball in the fourth quarter to drain the remaining clock, the crowd started chanting his name.
“That is the kind of fans that we have,” Cook said. “When you do great things for this program, they will reward you.”
His 17-yard rushing touchdown in the first quarter opened the scoring and moved him into sole possession for first place in FSU history with 45 career rushing touchdowns, surpassing Greg Allen.
Overall, Florida State (9-3, No. 14 in latest College Football Playoff poll) had 387 yards of offense. UF had a season-low 207.
Florida’s defense and special teams had enough bright spots early in the game to keep UF competitive.
There was the blocked field goal where Joey Ivie got a hand on Ricky Aguayo’s kick with less than two minutes remaining in the first half. It allowed UF to hold its halftime deficit to just 10-3.
There was the Chauncey Gardner interception, an easy grab for the freshman making his first career start. Four plays later, Eddy Pineiro hit his second field goal of the night -- a 41-yard shot straight through the uprights -- to make the score 10-6.
And there was Marcell Harris’ fumble recovery on a fourth-quarter punt return that gave UF its first touchdown against FSU since the second quarter of the 2014 game.
But all of that was for naught because Florida (8-3, No. 15 in CFP) failed to sustain drives long enough to find the end zone.
On UF’s opening drive, quarterback Austin Appleby marched the team 73 yards down the field before stalling at the FSU 2-yard line. He threw an incompletion to Brandon Powell in the end zone to give the ball to the Seminoles. No points.
For the game, Appleby completed just 19 of his 35 pass attempts for 149 yards. FSU sacked the UF quarterback six times. Four of them came on third down and two resulted in fumbles that FSU recovered and turned into touchdowns.
The Gators, who go on to face top-ranked and undefeated Alabama next weekend in the SEC Championship Game, failed to convert any of their 12 third-down attempts.
“I’m disappointed,” UF coach Jim McElwain said after the game, “but you know what? That’s why you go play the game. You put yourself out there and give yourself an opportunity and we didn’t take advantage of it.”