GAINESVILLE — There was dancing, hugging and a jubilant celebration that began at midfield and extended into the south end zone at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. But for the sixth consecutive week, it wasn't the Gators who were celebrating.
Georgia Southern had taken over Florida Field.
The Division I-AA team was paid $550,000 to come to Gainesville and was a 28-point underdog, but amassed 429 yards of offense in a 26-20 upset in front of an announced 82,459.
The loss eliminated any chance for the Gators to qualify for a bowl game and will further stoke calls for coach Will Muschamp to lose his job. He is 22-15 in two-plus seasons. The Gators last missed a bowl game in 1990, when they were banned under NCAA sanctions. The last nonprobation team to not play in a bowl game was 1979. That also was the last time, before this season, Florida finished with a losing record.
Florida (4-7) was in position for a winning touchdown but fell short when Skyler Mornhinweg's pass to Solomon Patton fell incomplete on fourth and 3 from the Georgia Southern 17 as time expired.
The loss was Florida's first to a I-AA opponent since the division formed in 1978 and first home nonconference loss to a team other than Florida State or Miami since 17-11 to Memphis in 1988.
"Very shocking," Florida right guard Jon Halapio said. "The morale on this team is at an all-time low. We have a lack of leadership. We just really need to tighten up as a team."
The victory was the first-ever over a I-A opponent for Georgia Southern (7-4), which played its final game in I-AA before moving up to I-A next season. The Eagles entered 0-20 against I-A opponents.
"I am just so proud of our football team; the football team we brought here; the senior class, these guys who came up here and talked about what it means to them to win that game," Georgia Southern coach Jeff Monken said. "Those make memories that last forever for those guys, and that's what playing college football is all about."
What college football is about for the Gators right now is pure misery. Florida is on a six-game losing streak, their longest since 1979, and next face No. 2 Florida State.
"Right now, we're really just hurt and in shock," Gators linebacker Darrin Kitchens said. "Losing that type of game is embarrassing. But when everybody played as hard as they did and everybody did their all, that's all you can ask for."
All last week, the Gators talked about the difficulty of facing the Eagles' triple-option offense. But they still couldn't stop it.
Georgia Southern didn't complete any of its three passes but rushed 54 times for 429 yards. Quarterback Kevin Ellison had 15 carries for 118 yards, and Jerick McKinnon had nine for 125.
After trailing 10-0, Georgia Southern scored 20 consecutive points.
The Gators tied the score at 20 on a 46-yard pass from Mornhinweg to Patton with 5:41 remaining. But the Eagles answered with a 14-yard touchdown run by McKinnon with 2:57 left. The Eagles scored on four of their final seven possessions.
Mornhingweg, the Gators' third-string quarterback who played his first game one week ago against South Carolina, was 14-of-25 for 122 yards and two touchdowns. The Gators had 157 rushing yards.
"When you play a team like that, you have to get them off rhythm," Muschamp said. "But you've also got to change the scoreboard offensively. You've got to be able to change the scoreboard, and we just struggled scoring points offensively. It's been a week-in, week-out occurrence, and it's my job to get it fixed, and we will get it fixed. Very disappointed for our program.
"An embarrassment in this situation."
Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]
Georgia Southern is the fifth team — first I-AA — to rush for 400-plus yards against Florida. The others, with their rank at the time of the game, were slightly more formidable:
Year Team Yds Rank
1995 Nebraska * 524 1
1979 Alabama * 453 2
1976 Georgia 432 7
2013 Georgia Southern 429 —
1950 Alabama 427 17
* National champion
Source: ESPN Stats & Information