JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Chas Henry, a punter thrust into kicking duties, drilled a 37-yard field goal in overtime to lift Florida to a 34-31 victory over rival Georgia on Saturday.
Aaron Murray's third interception — his fourth turnover of the game — nearly ended it four plays earlier. Jelani Jenkins tipped Murray's pass over the middle. Will Hill intercepted it and nearly returned it for the winning score. Hill stepped out at the 4.
The Gators (5-3, 3-3 Southeastern Conference) did little with their turn and settled for Henry's winner. It was a redeeming moment for Henry, who missed three field goals in close losses to LSU and Mississippi State while filling in for injured kicker Caleb Sturgis.
Florida snapped a three-game losing streak and extended its dominance in the series. Georgia (4-5, 3-4) has lost 18 of the last 21 meetings and this one was especially damaging.
The Gators stayed in the hunt for the SEC's Eastern Division title, while eliminating the Bulldogs from contention.
This one will go down as one of the best in the 95-year history of the series, the first overtime game between the Gators and Bulldogs. The difference, much like the last two meetings, were turnovers. Florida had one, while Georgia finished with a season-high four.
The final one was the most crucial. Georgia had been moving the ball at will in the second half and scored on four straight possessions, the last one a 15-yard strike from Murray to A.J. Green in triple coverage. That evened the score with 4:36 remaining after Trey Burton's 51-yard TD scamper.
The Gators had a final chance in regulation, but instead of attempting a long field goal, coach Urban Meyer settled for the extra frame.
Georgia players stood arm-in-arm on the sideline and swayed back and forth during the coin toss, showing all the confidence of a team that entered the game with a three-game winning streak and dominated the second half. The enthusiasm was short-lived, though.
Murray threw incomplete to Kris Durham deep on first down, then Caleb King was stopped for a yard on second. Murray's next pass was tipped, then picked.
Florida was celebrating a few plays later.
Henry jumped up and down as soon as the ball left his foot, knowing he hit it dead straight through the middle of the uprights. Meyer waited a second longer to celebrate, then dropped to his knees in relief.
Florida snapped an 0-for-October streak that was the longest in Meyer's coaching career and the program's longest since 1999.
If Florida beats Vanderbilt and South Carolina, it would advance to Atlanta for the third consecutive year.
That would be some feat given Florida's struggles this season.
The Gators used their bye week to tweak their floundering offense. They got running back Jeff Demps healthy, worked Chris Rainey into the mix and used several different looks with John Brantley, Burton and Jordan Reed lining up at quarterback.
Burton finished with 110 yards rushing and two touchdowns. He also completed both passes for 26 yards and caught five passes for 35 yards.
Brantley completed 16 of 25 passes for 193 yards. He was sacked three times and now has as many interceptions (six) as TD passes this season.
Rainey, suspended the last five games after he was arrested and charged with aggravated stalking, jump-started Florida's attack. He ran for 84 yards and a touchdown and finished with 241 all-purpose yards. His long kickoff return early in the fourth set up Henry's 34-yarder that put Florida ahead 24-16.
The Bulldogs answered quickly, with Murray completing four consecutive passes for 74 yards. His crossing pass to Orson Charles went for a 29-yard score. Murray then ran for the 2-point conversion.
But this one was far from over, keeping the 84,444 on the edge of their seats and providing the kind of last-second drama the recently one-sided series has been missing for years.
Florida finished with 450 yards; Georgia had 439.