AP Photo via Gainesville Sun
After a splendid start, the Galen Hall era at Florida fizzled over its final years. Hall went a combined 17-1-1 over his final 19 games, but lost at least five contests in each of his final three full seasons.
During those final years however, there were some memorable moments. One of those came on this day 35 years ago as Florida rallied from 17 points down in the fourth quarter to stun Auburn, 18-17.
Setting the Stage
After a 1-4 start to the season, Florida had won consecutive games over Kent State and Rutgers and had an extra week to prepare for Auburn as it arrived at Florida Field on Nov. 1, 1986. The Gators had defeated Auburn the year before in a top-10 match-up and were looking for a third straight win over the Tigers.
Auburn, on the other hand, was a perfect 7-0. Ranked No. 5 in the country, the Tigers hadn’t played a contest decided by fewer than 21 points. After three quarters, there seemed to be a decent chance that trend would continue.
Through three quarters, Auburn had dominated. The Tigers took a 17-0 lead into the final quarter in Gainesville and appeared well on their way to 8-0.
Florida however, wouldn’t go quietly.
Despite being banged up, quarterback Kerwin Bell replaced starting quarterback Rodney Brewer after the team turned the ball over on five of its first six possessions. Bell initially didn’t fare much better, but broke up the shutout with a quarterback sneak for a touchdown to cap a 79-yard drive early in the fourth.
The next Florida drive reached the Auburn 24-yard-line, but a sack looked as though it would take the Gators out of field goal range. Robert McGinty, an Auburn transfer, showed that he had the leg and connected on a 51-yard field goal. With 7:10 remaining, Florida trailed by just a touchdown, 17-10.
The ensuing Auburn drive chewed more than five minutes off the clock and reached the Florida 36-yard-line, but Reggie Ware’s fumble was recovered by Webbie Burnett and the Gators had new life. Bell took advantage, marching Florida to the end zone.
After a 25-yard strike from Bell to Rick Nattiel put the ball at the Auburn 5-yard-line, the two hooked up for the 5-yard score. With 36 seconds to play, Hall had a decision to make. He kept his offense on the field.
Bell again looked for Nattiel, but Auburn had him well covered. Instead, Bell was forced to improvise. Despite having a bad knee, Bell was able to make a defender miss before crossing the field and diving into the end zone to give the Gators their first and only lead, 18-17.
With the help of an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, Auburn began its final drive in Florida territory. The contest would ultimately come down to a long field goal attempt, but Chris Knapp’s kick fell short and Florida prevailed.
Both Auburn touchdowns came in the first quarter. Ware got the scoring started as his 1-yard touchdown capped a 15-play, 88-yard scoring drive.
The second touchdown came from Brent Fullwood, who scored from 11 yards out following a Florida turnover. Fullwood rushed for 166 yards in the loss.
After a scoreless second quarter, Knapp kicked a field goal late in the third to give the Tigers the 17-0 lead.
Bell passed for 182 yards for Florida in the victory. Both he and the starter Brewer were intercepted twice.
For Auburn, the loss would cost the Tigers a share of the SEC championship. The Tigers lost to Georgia two weeks later, but closed the year with wins over Alabama and then USC in the Citrus Bowl to finish 10-2 and ranked No. 6 in the AP Poll.
For Florida, the victory was part of a 5-1 stretch to end the year, which also included wins over rivals Georgia and Florida State. The Gators finished 6-5, but perhaps the most thrilling win was the improbable comeback against Auburn.
It came on this day 35 years ago.