Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Colleges

Lightning, storms get Florida Gators opener called off

GAINESVILLE — Following multiple lengthy rain and lightning delays, Florida's season-opener against Idaho was cancelled late Saturday after officials determined the field was unsafe to play on.

"It's unfortunate that the weather didn't cooperate," Gators coach Will Muschamp said. "After long discussions with the head referee, it was determined that the field conditions were too dangerous for the student-athletes."

The 7 p.m. kickoff was originally delayed by nearly three hours as lightning blanketed the area and several thunderstorms blew through Florida Field.

Players from both teams were removed from the field with 31:21 remaining on the pregame clock due to lighting in the area. SEC rules dictate that if lighting is detected within 15 miles of a game site, game officials must be notified. If the lightning is within eight miles, the game must be suspended for 30 minutes.

The kickoff time was adjusted more than 10 times as lightning continued to strike in the area before another downpour.

At one point, part of the field was covered with standing water, but by the time the game finally began, the water had nearly completely drained.

The game kicked off at 9:48 p.m. — and lasted exactly one play.

Idaho won the toss and deferred. Florida receiver Valdez Showers returned the kickoff 64 yards, then lightning in the area forced another delay with the Gators with first and 10 at the Vandals' 14-yard line.

After another 50-minute delay, the game was called off.

"Game officials for the Florida-Idaho football game, as well as athletics directors from both schools, in conjunction with the Southeastern Conference, have determined that the game between the Gators and Vandals has been terminated," Florida athletics officials said in a statement.

"This is due to weather, unsafe and unplayable field conditions at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium."

Florida and Idaho officials were meeting late Saturday to determine if the game could be rescheduled. If it is rescheduled, it would be restarted as a new game.

Florida and Idaho each have an open date Oct. 25. Idaho plays Arkansas State the following week, and the Gators have their annual showdown against Georgia, which may play a huge part in whether Florida wants to reschedule.

There are also major considerations for Idaho, including travel. The Vandals received $975,000 to play the Gators.

Florida officials will announce information about new tickets or potential refunds later.

Though fans were given the option to leave and return, thousands remained in their seats for nearly an hour after the scheduled start time. They sang, chanted "Orange", "Blue," and did the wave.

But heavy rain, thunder and lightning about 8 p.m. forced all but about 2,000 fans to flee the stadium. Those who remained — many of them in the student section — continued to chant and do the Gator chomp through the weather.

By kickoff, about 30,000 fans remained.

It was the Gators' first weather delay since Sept. 1, 2007, when Florida's game versus Western Kentucky was delayed for one hour and two minutes. The game, which the Gators won 49-3, was eventually called with 8:23 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Saturday's game was the first night game at Florida Field since the start of the 2012 season.

"As everyone saw with that opening kickoff, I thought that our guys were ready and fired up to play," Muschamp said. "We appreciate the fans coming out and supporting us and sitting through several weather delays. It was amazing the energy and passion shown in the stands all night."

SUSPENDED GATORS: Three Gators players were suspended for the game.

Jay-nard Bostwick and Darious Cummings will not play due to a violation of team rules," Muschamp said in a statement before the game's original scheduled start. "Demarcus Robinson will miss the game due to a university sanction that is now resolved. I support the university sanction. We have rules here that we have to follow — team, athletic department and university rules — and when you don't follow them, there are consequences."

The players were suspended for the Idaho game only.

"I expect all three players to return next week," Muschamp said.

Robinson, who is listed as the backup receiver to starter Quinton Dunbar, is no stranger to suspensions. He was suspended twice last year, including on Nov. 23 for the remainder of the season.

Cummings is a senior starter at nose tackle, and Bostwick, a redshirt freshman, is a second-team nose tackle. Cummings was suspended for last year's season-opener for a violation of team rules.

Safety Marcus Maye (hamstring) was the only player questionable entering the game due to injuries. He was listed as day to day during practice all week.

STREAK Of note: Florida has the second-longest opening week winning streak in the nation, 24 games.

Contact Antonya English at [email protected] or (813) 226-3389. Follow @TBTimes_Gators.

Associated Press

Lightning strikes near Ben Hill Griffin Stadium during a weather delay that pushes back the start of the Florida-Idaho game for almost three hours. Ten seconds after kickoff, the game is delayed again before being called off.

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