JACKSONVILLE — Immediately after he saw the football sail through the uprights Saturday night and the reality of Florida's 34-31 overtime win over Georgia had begun to set in, Gator kicker Chas Henry tried to find a place where he could stand alone and bask in the glory. But his teammates were having none of it.
The embattled punter, who became the Gators' starting kicker four games ago due to an injury to Caleb Sturgis, was lifted onto the shoulders of several teammates and carried to a section of EverBank Field where he remained high above the rest of the Gators as they celebrated with fans and sang the school's alma mater.
The senior had missed four consecutive field goals, including a 42-yarder on the Gators' opening possession Saturday.
But after Gator safety Will Hill intercepted Aaron Murray's pass on the Bulldogs' first possession of overtime, Florida called on Henry to end its three-game losing streak, the longest of coach Urban Meyer's career. And he delivered in front of 84,444.
"The main thing that went through my mind was thinking about how I let my team down two weeks ago against Mississippi State (missing a field goal that would have forced overtime)," said Henry, a native of Georgia. "That was one of the hardest things I've had to go through. … I let them down one time, I was never going to let it happen again. That was the most gratifying feeling. I kept saying all week, this is my redemption week."
With the victory, Florida (5-3. 3-3 SEC) remains in contention for the East Division title. Victories at Vanderbilt this week and at home against South Carolina the next put Florida in the SEC Championship Game.
"The team we just beat played their hearts out, and they're a much better team than their record," Meyer said after the win that snapped UF's longest losing streak since 1999. "That was just a great football game, two teams that were just fighting. Our guys? Wow, that was one of the great efforts."
Florida led 21-7 at halftime, aided by two costly Bulldogs turnovers that led directly to 14 points: a 2-yard run by Jeff Demps to give Florida a 14-7 lead, and a 1-yard run by quarterback Trey Burton with 3:35 remaining in the first half.
But Georgia (4-5, 3-4), which has lost 18 of the past 21 in the series, rallied in the second half behind Murray, the former Plant High star, who was 18-of-37 for 313 yards, but also had three interceptions and lost a fumble.
UF was coming off a bye week in which Meyer and his team spent a significant amount of time revamping its anemic offense.
The result was 450 yards of total offense, including 219 passing. The Gators instituted a no-huddle offense, went more up-tempo and used a two-quarterback system of John Brantley and Burton. Meyer said the Gators had seven "stupid" penalties because of the no-huddle, but he's sticking with it. He credited receivers coach Zac Azzanni with helping to install it over the past three weeks.
"We've been trying to do that all season and really hadn't had the time," said Brantley, 16-of-25 for 193 yards and one interception. "With the bye week, we had a lot of time to think about it and practice it. We worked really hard, everyone bought in and we were just happy to see it executed."
The two-quarterback system apparently is here to stay, too. Burton was the team's leading rusher with 110 yards on 17 carries, had five receptions for 35 yards and also threw two passes for 26 yards.
"I could kick myself for not working on that (two quarterbacks) more," Meyer said. "We have to find that edge."
Meyer described the locker room afterward as extremely emotional, and the players admitted they needed the victory more than they had let on.
"We needed this one to boost our confidence back up," senior center Mike Pouncey said. "We went out and we did our thing."
Florida is 3-2 in overtime games since college football adopted the OT rules in 1996:
2010 Georgia* W 34-31
2005 Vanderbilt W 49-42 2OT
2002 Auburn W 30-23
1999 Alabama L 40-39
1998 at Tennessee L 20-17
* at Jacksonville