Midway through the third quarter with the Florida Gators staring at the end zone, Austin Appleby locked eyes on DeAndre Goolsby in the corner of the end zone.
The No. 15 Gators, trailing by 17 points in the third quarter of the Southeastern Conference Championship against top-ranked Alabama, had just marched 64 yards into the Crimson Tide’s red zone before having to face a fourth and goal from the 2.
Appleby rolled to his right and fired a pass to his tight end.
Incomplete. Turnover on downs.
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It was Florida’s final straw.
Alabama closed the game with three straight touchdown drives — including back-to-back possessions of at least 90 yards — to break down Florida’s defense and roll to a 54-16 win in front of an announced crowd of 74,632 inside Atlanta’s Georgia Dome. Alabama’s 54 points are the third-most in the 25-year history of the SEC Championship game and its 38-point margin of victory is the second-highest in the conference title game.
After holding Alabama to 162 yards of offense, the Gators gave up 210 yards on those three touchdown drives.
The win was just another testament to Alabama head coach Nick Saban’s success. The Crimson Tide has won 25 straight games, four of the last five SEC Championships and now has the chance to win its fifth national title since 2009.
Meanwhile, the Gators have now lost six straight games against Alabama and dropped to 2-7 against ranked opponents in two years under Jim McElwain.
Even former UF coach Steve Spurrier and Heisman trophy winner Tim Tebow — the last UF quarterback to defeat Alabama — had their reservations heading into the game.
Hours before kickoff, Spurrier said Alabama would have to play poorly while UF would need to play “one of our best games ever” for a chance to win.
The day before the game, Tebow said “a lot has to go right” for the Gators to have a chance to pull off the upset.
Despite the criticism, the doubt, the Gators (8-4) turned heads to open the game and showed an occasional glimmer of hope to its fans.
Appleby opened the game by marching Florida down the field on a 10-play, 64-yard drive capped by a 5-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Callaway — the first touchdown Alabama (13-0) has given up since Oct. 22.
The Gators closed the first half with a 25-yard touchdown from Appleby to Goolsby to cap a 10-play, 92-yard drive.
Sandwiched between those drives, however, was pure bedlam.
Appleby threw two interceptions in a three-pass span, the latter of which Alabama linebacker Minkah Fitzpatrick returned 44-yards for a touchdown. Appleby ended the game with three interceptions and completed 26 of his 39 passes for 261 yards.
One drive after the pick-six, Derrick Gore blocked a Johnny Townsend punt and Josh Jacobs returned it 27 yards for a touchdown.
And then, as Alabama kicker Adam Griffith went to attempt the point-after, UF redshirt freshman Jabari Zuniga blocked the kick and David Reese took it 98 yards to the opposite end zone for two points.
It was 16-9 Alabama after one quarter, just 10 of the 25 points being produced by either offense and Alabama having negative 7 yards on offense.
But after the theatrics of the opening 15 minutes came to a close, Alabama began to pull away.
The Crimson Tide took a 33-16 halftime lead and held UF scoreless the rest of the way.
The Gators, who entered the game ranked 114th in total offense, managed just 70 yards in the second half.