Former Cocoa Tiger Star Chauncey Gardner Paces Gators In 30-3 Outback Bowl Win Over Iowa
By Scott Carter, Florida Gators // January 2, 2017
Gardner Earns Outback Bowl MVP honors
ABOVE VIDEO: Highlights of the Florida Gators win over the Iowa Hawkeyes. Former Cocoa Tiger Chauncey Gardner was the Outback Bowl MVP.
(FLORIDA GATORS) TAMPA, FLORIDA- The Florida Gators found an explosive play in an unlikely place. The arms of seldom-seen running back Mark Thompson.
Thompson, the junior college transfer tailback with few touches the second half of the season, took a screen pass from Austin Appleby and ran through the Iowa defense for an 85-yard touchdown late in the second quarter.
It was the big play and just the spark the No. 20 Gators needed, as it set in motion a decisive 30-3 trampling of No. 21 Iowa before 51,119 in the Outback Bowl Monday at Raymond James Stadium.
The win helped UF (9-4) avoid a similar end-of-year, three-game spiral that stalked them all last offseason. Instead, Florida allowed Iowa (8-5) one measly first-quarter field goal on its way to setting a team record for fewest points allowed in a bowl game.
The 27-point final margin of victory tied for the fourth largest in in the program’s 44-game bowl history.
Tailback Mark Thompson on his 85-yard touchdown reception off a screen pass from Austin Appleby that gave the Gators the lead in the second quarter; one they never relinquished, as it turned out.
UF quarterback Austin Appleby completed 14 of 25 passes for 222 yards, two touchdowns and a couple of interceptions, and tailback Jordan Scarlett rushed for 94 yards, but it was freshman safety Chauncey Gardner Jr., who came away with the game’s Most Valuble Player honors.
Gardner intercepted a pair of fourth-quarter passes, returning the first 58 yards for a touchdown that gave the Gators a 21-point lead.
He had help on his side of the ball, though, as the Florida defense allowed just 225 yards for the game and only 55 through the air, frustrating Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard into an horrific afternoon: 7-for-23, 55 yards, three interceptions.
The Thompson TD gave UF a 10-3 advantage and the Gators opened up a three-touchdown cushion when Appleby found wide-open tight end DeAndre Goolsby for a 6-yard scoring strike for a 17-3 lead with 48 seconds left in the third period and Gardner intercepted a tipped pass and went untouched for a touchdown on the second play of the fourth quarter to make it 24-3.
Eddy Pineiro added his second field goal of the game, a 25-yarder after a second interception by Gardner, to make it 27-3 with 9:46 remaining, and a third field goal after linebacker Daniel McMillian got his first career interception on the next series.
Heading into the game, Thompson had just three receptions for 18 yards the entire season. He’d only rushed six times over the previous six games, after losing the starting spot he held going into the 2016 season to sophomore Jordan Scarlett.
But with the game knotted at 3-3 and the Gators backed up at their own 15, Thompson caught the pass in the left flat, ran through a couple Iowa arm tackles, then used a stiff arm to break into the clear and outrun the Hawkeyes the remaining 50 yards for the longest touchdown reception in the Outback’s 31-year history.
The Hawkeyes had a chance to cut into the UF lead on their first possession of the second half. Beathard marched his unit 13 plays and 63 yards to the Florida 12, but kicker Deith Duncan pushed a chip-shot, 30-yard field-goal try wide to the right.
The Gators countered by going 80 yards in 12 plays, but needed to overcome some obstacles along the way. Back-to-back completions of 24 yards to Freddie Swain and then 21 to Goolsby moved UF to the Iowa 9.
On the next play, Appleby fired an apparent touchdown pass to freshman wideout Tyrie Cleveland, but the play was called back on an illegal-motion penalty. On the very next play, the Gators were hit with an illegal formation call, dropping them back to a first-and-goal from the 19.
But on third down, Appleby stayed calm in the pocket, stepped up and zipped a throw to Goolsby, who was uncovered in the end zone for the 17-3 lead.
On Iowa’s second play of its next possession, Beathard, under duress from pressure by defensive tackle Taven Bryan, fired a ball down the middle of the field for wideout Riley McCarron. He was covered and took a hit by walk-on linebacker Cristian Garcia.
The ball popped up and into the hands of Gardner, who sped to the outside and outraced the Hawkeyes to the end zone just 14 seconds into the final quarter.
Gardner’s second interception of the game (and 30-yard return to the Iowa 7) was followed by three plays and minus-1 yard of offense.
Enter Pinerio for his 25-yarder and exit a bunch of Hawkeyes fans from the building. They weren’t there to see the Gators intercept Beathard a third time in the fourth quarter when another ball was batted in the air and McMillian came down with it to set up Pineiro’s 48-yarder with just 5:57 to go.
Pineiro banged a 45-yard field goal at the 5:42 mark of the first quarter that tied the game at 3-all after Duncan had given the Hawkeyes a 3-0 lead with a 36-yard field goal three minutes earlier. Those Iowa points were set up by the second of two interceptions thrown by Appleby.
On the game’s opening possession, Appleby tried to hit wide receiver Ahmad Fullwood on a deep post, but the ball caromed off Fullwood’s hands and was picked off by diving free safety Brandon Snyder. The Hawkeyes, though, went three-and-out and punted.
The second play of the next UF series ended with Appleby, the graduate transfer by way of Purdue, trying to force a ball to slot receiver Brandon Powell, but cornerback Desmond King was in great position. Again, the ball popped into the air and King laid out for the interception to give Iowa a first down at the UF 17.
The Hawkeyes, though, had to settle for Duncan’s field goal after the Gators defense, namely cornerback Jalen Tabor, made a big hit on third-and-hit to force an incompletion.
On Florida’s next series, Appleby fired a 34-yard completion to wideout Antonio Callaway to the Iowa 44. The Gators got another first down, but bogged down after that and had to settle for Pineiro’s boot and a tie game.
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