GAINESVILLE, Fla. (ABC4 Sports) – The Utah football team came into the 2022 season with dreams of making it to the College Football Playoffs.
But those dreams may have been shattered after a heartbreaking 29-26 loss to Florida Saturday night.
Anthony Richardson ran for three scores in his second career start, including a 2-yard scamper with 1:25 remaining, and Florida upset seventh-ranked Utah 29-26 on Saturday night to get the Napier era off to a rousing start.
Cam Rising led the Utes down to the six-yard line with 17 seconds left, but threw an interception to Amari Burney in the end zone to end it.
“It wasn’t Cam’s best throw,” Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said. “I’m sure he’d like that back, but he played great.”
Rising completed 22 of 32 passes for 216 yards, with a touchdown and the turnover. He also ran for 91 more.
“Someone had to make a play, It happened to be me,” Burney said.
That intereption set off a wild celebration for many of the 90,799 in attendance — the 10th most at home in school history. Richardson took a knee from there, and the Gators rushed the field to revel in their 33rd consecutive victory in home season openers. That’s the longest current streak in the nation.
“This group’s got a lot of fight in them,” said Florida head coach Billy Napier, who replaced fired coach Dan Mullen in November. “They’ve got a little bit different edge to them.”
Richardson ran 11 times for 106 yards and was never stopped for a loss. He completed 17 of 24 passes for 168 yards and played turnover-free football.
“He’s going to get his (NFL payday),” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. “He’s 6-4, 230 and runs like a 4.3. He’s a terrific player.”
Richardson’s best play? He had an electrifying 2-point conversion early in the fourth quarter that put the Gators up 22-19. He juked former Florida teammate Mohamoud Diabate with a pump fake and then sprinted right by fellow Utah linebacker Lander Barton before throwing a strike to Ja’Quavion Fraziers in the back of the end zone.
Utah answered and briefly took the lead, but Richardson responded. He moved the chains with a third-down throw and again with a fourth-down run, both of which set up his game winner.
“Just trying to make something happen. Glad it worked,” Richardson said.
Rising moved the Utes in position to steal one on the road for a team that entered the season with its highest preseason ranking in school history. But Rising’s last pass was his most important — or costly — of the night.
Tavion Thomas had 115 yards rushing and a score for Utah, which caught a break when it rained about two hours before kickoff and erased whatever advantage Florida had with sweltering summer heat and humidity.
The difference was Florida’s success and Utah’s failure in the red zone. The Gators scored touchdowns on all three trips into the 20-yard line. The Utes had the late turnover and were stuffed on consecutive downs at the goal line to open the third quarter.
Utah also settled for two first-half field goals, one from 43 yards and another from 31.
Cole Bishop led the Utes with a career-best 12 tackles, along with a quarterback hurry, while Mo Diabate finished with nine stops. In his return from injury, R.J. Hubert racked up a career-high eight tackles along with a 47-yard fumble recovery return.
The defending Pac-12 champions showed resiliency on the road, battling back to take the lead in the fourth quarter. Despite the loss, the Utes have enough talent and experience to be a factor in the chase for the College Football Playoff.
Utah plays its home opener Saturday, Sep. 10 against Southern Utah.