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Florida handles lower-division Eastern Washington

The Gators score touchdowns on their first five possessions in a game delayed by Hurricane Ian.
Florida wide receiver Justin Shorter (4) celebrates with wide receiver Xzavier Henderson (3) in the end zone after Shorter scored on a 75-yard pass play during the first half Sunday against Eastern Washington.
Florida wide receiver Justin Shorter (4) celebrates with wide receiver Xzavier Henderson (3) in the end zone after Shorter scored on a 75-yard pass play during the first half Sunday against Eastern Washington. [ PHELAN M. EBENHACK | AP ]
Published Oct. 2|Updated Oct. 2

GAINESVILLE — Anthony Richardson looked quite comfortable playing on a Sunday for the first time in his college career.

Richardson threw for 240 yards and two touchdowns as Florida handled lower-division Eastern Washington 52-17 in a game delayed a day by Hurricane Ian.

The Gators (3-2) scored touchdowns on their first five possessions and totaled 666 yards while having their way with the Eagles (1-3) on a sun-drenched day in The Swamp. More than 72,000 were on hand for the first Sunday game at Florida Field, most of them expecting big things from Richardson.

His first throw was a 75-yard touchdown pass to Justin Shorter. His first run went for 45 yards and set up another score. He briefly left the game in the second quarter to get his right ankle tapped but later returned and was pulled early in the third.

“He did a great job,” coach Billy Napier said. “He’s a product of his work. I think you’re seeing a guy that’s settling in a little bit. He’s starting to get more familiar with what his routine should look like. ... Just taking a true professional approach to the preparation part.”

Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson throws a pass for a completion while under pressure from Eastern Washington defensive lineman Brock Harrison during the first half.
Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson throws a pass for a completion while under pressure from Eastern Washington defensive lineman Brock Harrison during the first half. [ PHELAN M. EBENHACK | AP ]

Richardson completed 8 of 10 passes, with an interception on a deep ball to open the second half. He spent much of the second half cheering on backup Jalen Kitna, the son of retired NFL quarterback Jon Kitna.

Kitna completed 8-of-12 for 152 yards and a touchdown, the first of his college career. His dad was scheduled to make the trip from Texas, but Ian’s aftermath forced him to cancel the trip.

Kitna’s performance should give Napier more confidence to call running plays for Richardson. Napier has been admittedly shy about putting Richardson in harm’s way considering backup Jack Miller has missed the first five games following hand surgery. But Kitna played with poise and threw several precise passes.

“The last couple of weeks I’ve become more comfortable with him as a player because I’m seeing him grow up in a practice setting,” Napier said. “He’s a smart kid and he takes a lot of pride in his role.”

Added Kitna, the only player from Washington on Florida’s roster: “It’s a little funny how that works. ... It was just really cool. It’s a great experience.”

Florida wide receiver Caleb Douglas (12) catches a pass for a 62-yard touchdown after getting past Eastern Washington defensive back Marlon Jones Jr. (20) during the second half.
Florida wide receiver Caleb Douglas (12) catches a pass for a 62-yard touchdown after getting past Eastern Washington defensive back Marlon Jones Jr. (20) during the second half. [ PHELAN M. EBENHACK | AP ]

Receiver Ricky Pearsall added a 76-yard scoring run for the Gators, who emptied their bench late after scoring 52 consecutive points to erase a 3-0 deficit.

Eastern Washington will get $750,000 for the cross-country trip, a significant payday for a team from the Football Championship Subdivision whose annual athletics budget is about $17.5 million. Players hopped into the stands to take pictures of what should serve as a lifelong memory.

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The game between Florida and former Florida coach Jim McElwain’s alma mater was initially set for 2020 but was bumped because of COVID-19 scheduling. It landed on the schedule for Saturday but got pushed a day as Ian tore through the Sunshine State.

Gunner Talkington led the Eagles with 250 yards passing and a touchdown.

“A few explosive plays by their offense against our defense put us behind the eight-ball a little bit. We battled the entire day,” Eastern Washington coach Aaron Best said. “Not too many times has this university played on Sunday let alone played across county on Sunday against an upper-echelon team. We held our own for pockets.”

The Gators got a much-needed break after an early season schedule that included three ranked teams: Utah, Kentucky and Tennessee. Florida will now play six straight against the Southeastern Conference.

Up next

Eastern Washington plays at Weber State in Big Sky play on Saturday.

Florida hosts Missouri, the Gators’ fifth home game in six weeks to start the SEC season.

By MARK LONG, Associated Press

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