The date: November 30, 1991
The matchup: No. 3 Florida State (10-1) at No. 5 Florida (9-1)
The stakes: Florida’s season has already been a massive success; the Gators have won their first SEC title in just Steve Spurrier’s second year in charge and are headed to the Sugar Bowl to play Notre Dame. But first, they want to get another monkey off of their back.
The back story: FSU is on its way to its fifth consecutive top-5 finish and has beaten Florida for four straight years. The Seminoles just lost out on a national title shot with a 17-16 loss to Miami (you’ve maybe read about that game once or twice) and now has to rebound against the best Florida team in quite a while.
The three major Florida schools have never all been this good at the same time. And while FSU is still trying to get over the hump against Miami, Florida wants a seat at the table. The Gators romped through the SEC slate and beating No. 4 Tennessee, No. 16 Alabama, No. 21 Mississippi State, and No. 23 Georgia by a combined 106 points. Spurrier has brought the forward pass to the SEC, but a win over FSU would resonate nationally.
From 50 Best*:
Florida and Florida State combined to average nearly 67 points per game in 1991; in Gainesville on November 30, they combined for just 23. Florida held FSU’s Casey Weldon to 24-for-51 passing, and FSU held Matthews to 13-for-30 and three picks. In front of 85,461, a record crowd at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Florida led just 7-3 at halftime thanks to a short Rhett touchdown.
But midway through the third quarter, FSU’s defense suffered a crippling miscue. With Matthews rolling right, FSU’s Terrell Buckley pursued him, leaving linebacker Reggie Freeman to cover Harrison Houston deep. Buckley had two interceptions on the day, but he only got within about one stride of Matthews before the QB heaved a deep jump ball toward Houston. Freeman slipped as he attempted to post up, and Houston made a leaping catch and streaked into the end zone.
The 72-yard strike accounted for more than one-third of Matthews’ passing yards. And when a late FSU drive ended with a fourth-down incompletion in the end zone, the bomb made the difference in a 14-9 win. The Gators had lost four in a row to FSU before this win and would lose three of the next four. But this game kick-started a rivalry that would define quite a few national title races throughout the 1990s. The winner of Florida-FSU would either win or play for the national title four times in seven years between 1993-99.
The box score: From Newspapers.com/Orlando Sentinel.
An unexpected defensive battle broke out, but Rhett's 140 combined yards on 24 rushes and four receptions made a huge difference, as did the one big pass to Houston.
Florida would lose in the Sugar Bowl but still finish in the AP top 10 for the first of what would become an eight-year streak. The Gators would peak four years later, going 24-2 in 1995-96 and winning a national title. The two-horse race in Florida would become a three-horse race, at least until Miami began to trail off.