GAINESVILLE -- For Florida State, there would be no happy ending to a promising finish.
After winning a pair of games as underdogs to get to 5-6 and set up an improbable bowl bid chance against rival Florida, the Seminoles couldn't complete the trifecta.
Florida (6-6, 2-6 in SEC) scored the first 17 points of the second half, breaking a halftime deadlock and holding off a rally to come away with a 24-21 win over the Seminoles (5-7, 4-4 in ACC) in front of a crowd of 88,491 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
"That was a hard-fought game, one that had a lot of swings to it," FSU head coach Mike Norvell said.
"Was one that I thought our guys battled throughout. Just made some mistakes there that truly cost us."
With only one of the two rivals assured of six wins and bowl eligibility, the Gators will get that honor despite having an interim head coach, winning their third straight game against the Seminoles. FSU will finish one win short of being the first team since 1986 to get to six wins after starting 0-4.
Rivalry game updates: Florida State rallies late, but comeback against Florida falls short 24-21
Despite an early injury from Jordan Travis which forced him to get examined in the locker room, the Seminoles were able to hang tough in the first half.
When UF moved to backup quarterback Anthony Richardson early in the second half due to three interceptions from starter Emory Jones, it marked a turning point. That drive started a span of the Gators scoring consecutive 17 points over the ensuing four possessions, aided by a few major FSU mishaps.
"Third quarter was tough on us. Everything that probably could go wrong did. It seemed like one of those situations," Norvell said.
"You can go back now and look at this or this or this, I wish I woulda. At the end of the day, it's what we have to reflect back on, what we have to live with and what we have to choose to go improve on as we move forward."
The Seminoles got a score after that to cut the deficit to 10 and scored another touchdown with 49 seconds left. However, kicker Parker Grothaus whiffed on the ensuing onside kick, allowing UF to take over and ruin the comeback bid.
FSU finishes the regular season 5-7. While there are occasionally seasons where some five-win teams are extended bowl bids, those are traditionally extended to teams with the best Academic Progress Rates. While FSU's APR is improving, it is still in somewhat rough shape from the end of Jimbo Fisher's tenure, meaning a bowl bid with five wins is unlikely.
"It was a hard way to end this season," Norvell said.
"Because I've seen a team that has been knocked down, have had all odds against them, but they've just continued to respond, they continued to work, they continued to believe."
Despite Travis' heroics, FSU offense comes up flat
Travis should be commended for playing through all he did to return and play out of the rest of the game against the Gators.
He's missed time with injuries this season, but was dealing with what may have been his worst of the season when he suffered an apparent shoulder injury on FSU's first offensive play of Saturday's game.
"It's a part of football," Travis said of his injury.
"I'll do whatever I can for this football team so every time I can be on the football field, I'm gonna be out there."
After a few tough, unproductive series with McKenzie Milton and Tate Rodemaker at quarterback, Travis triumphantly ran back out of the locker room and led a touchdown drive on his first series back.
From there, though, the Seminoles failed to generate much consistent offensive momentum. UF's defense largely shut down FSU's run game -- the Seminoles finished with 145 rushing yards, 87 of which came in the fourth quarter -- and FSU couldn't generate enough through the air to make up that deficit.
Travis came on late, completing 18 of 29 passes (62.1%) for 202 yards with one passing touchdown and his first interception in six games since Oct. 2 against Syracuse. But he was also constantly running for his life as he was sacked four times and hurried four more times.
"It was a challenging, challenging situation for him, but he was able to bounce back and really battle throughout the course of the game..." Norvell said.
"I thought he did a tremendous job coming back and had some extraordinary plays that put us in position to come back and have a chance there at the end."
Against a Florida defense that had allowed 52 points to Samford in its prior home game two weeks ago, the Seminoles managed seven total points over their first nine possessions.
FSU defense opportunistic but can't get off field
FSU's defense made enough plays in big moments to give the Seminoles a chance.
While Florida dominated the pace and chances for the majority of the first half due to FSU's quarterback carousel, the Gators were unable to take advantage. In five first-half trips across midfield, UF managed just seven points.
A big part of this was a mistake-prone Florida offense led by Emory Jones and an opportunistic FSU defense. On three consecutive drives in the first half, Jones threw interceptions in FSU territory. The last of those came in the red zone and ruined UF's chance to take a lead into halftime.
Each of them were ill-advised decisions as well as good plays from FSU defenders and they led to Jones being benched early in the second half.
But outside of these turnovers, the FSU defense didn't do enough to make up for a struggling offense.
Time and time again, FSU's defense put itself in a position to get off the field. But it did so at a shockingly low rate, going against a trend of significant in-season improvement in this regard.
It started on the very first drive when Florida converted on third downs of eight and nine yards, the second of which went for a 47-yard touchdown.
Florida picked up 8 of 10 third downs in the first half (80%), already only one less than the most FSU had allowed in a game all season.
FSU did better in this area after halftime, allowing UF to convert just 3 of its 8 third downs in the final 30 minutes. But the damage had been done by the time this improvement was noticed.
As Florida continued to stay on the field -- a factor of both the third downs and FSU mistakes -- the Seminoles wore down.
For as opportunistic as the Seminoles were on defense in the first half, they just looked tired as the third quarter progressed, missing tackles and failing to generate much of a pass rush as the Gators went on their 17-0 run that made FSU's comeback effort too challenging.
FSU's stellar defensive line had five quarterback hurries but only one sack.
Mistakes return at the worst moments
FSU hasn't played mistake-free football by any means over its run of improvement since the 0-4 start.
There have been plenty of mistakes from a team that, while improving, is still young and inexperienced.
But for the most part, the Seminoles have avoided the brutal mistakes in the worst moments. That changed Saturday when some critical blunders doomed FSU's attempt to stay competitive as the Gators grabbed momentum.
The biggest mishap came from veteran wide receiver Ontaria Wilson, who muffed a punt with FSU trailing 10-7 midway through the quarter. After a three-and-out from the FSU defense deep in Florida's end, the punt should have set FSU up in fairly good field position with a chance to take the lead or tie the game.
Instead, UF recovered and scored a touchdown on the ensuing drive after taking over at FSU's 33. FSU didn't cut it to a one-score deficit again until the closing minute.
"Tonight, there were some critical, critical mistakes that were made (on special teams)," Norvell said.
"It's not just one moment, one play, but as a whole, we need special teams to be something that is a positive for us. There were too many times this year where I don't know if we displayed the investment that we make, the time we put into it."
The Seminoles' three turnovers Saturday were their most since they had six at Wake Forest back on Sept. 18. It was more than the two they had in the previous three games combined.
But that muffed punt was hardly the only mistake. A line-drive, very returnable punt from Alex Mastromanno plus a targeting penalty on the return set up UF at the FSU 40 on its first drive of the second half, leading to the Gators' go-ahead field goal.
On the drive that made it 24-7 UF, a pair of FSU defenders missed tackles on third and 21, allowing the conversion and leading to the touchdown mere plays later.
In what was a notably chippy game, FSU had less penalties and penalty yards (9 for 89) than Florida (13 for 107). But this was another example of the discipline lapsing in moments.
Florida 24, Florida State 21
Florida State 0 7 0 14 — 21
Florida 7 0 10 7 — 24
FLA_Gamble 47 pass from E.Jones (Howard kick), 10:54.
FSU_Travis 9 run (Fitzgerald kick), 6:45.
FLA_FG Howard 36, 11:09.
FLA_Shorter 5 pass from Richardson (Howard kick), 2:09.
FLA_Pierce 3 run (Howard kick), 12:36.
FSU_Ward 19 run (Fitzgerald kick), 9:46.
FSU_O.Wilson 8 pass from Travis (Fitzgerald kick), :44.
First downs 22 23
Total Net Yards 354 357
Rushes-yards 34-151 46-139
Passing 203 218
Punt Returns 1-0 2-11
Kickoff Returns 3-66 0-0
Interceptions Ret. 3-28 2-0
Comp-Att-Int 20-33-2 21-31-3
Sacked-Yards Lost 4-31 1-11
Punts 6-39.2 5-48.6
Fumbles-Lost 3-1 1-0
Penalties-Yards 9-89 13-107
Time of Possession 28:10 34:51
RUSHING_Florida St., Travis 18-110, Ward 4-25, Toafili 5-22, Corbin 6-10, Milton 1-(minus 16). Florida, Pierce 12-62, Richardson 11-34, Jones 5-23, Wright 7-18, Davis 8-17, (Team) 3-(minus 15).
PASSING_Florida St., Travis 18-29-1-202, Rodemaker 1-2-0-7, Milton 1-2-1-(minus 6). Florida, Jones 16-24-3-163, Richardson 5-7-0-55.
RECEIVING_Florida St., Parchment 5-53, O.Wilson 3-50, Corbin 3-19, J.Douglas 2-40, McDonald 2-18, Ward 2-(minus 8), McClain 1-11, J.Wilson 1-11, Helton 1-9. Florida, Davis 4-44, Gamble 3-80, Copeland 3-32, Wells 3-19, Zipperer 2-22, Shorter 2-10, Whittemore 2-9, Wright 2-2.
MISSED FIELD GOALS_None.
Reach Curt Weiler at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @CurtMWeiler.
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This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: FSU football unable to complete improbable run to bowl, falls at UF