GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — No. 11 Florida is back in the Southeastern Conference championship game for the first time since 2009.
Austin Hardin's 43-yard field goal with 2:22 remaining helped the Gators beat pesky Vanderbilt 9-7 on Saturday and clinch a spot in Atlanta.
Order restored — barely.
The Gators won the Eastern Division for the first time since Tim Tebow's senior season — and did it in coach Jim McElwain's first season. McElwain's mantra all season has been "restore the order" by getting Florida back to the top of the division.
Vanderbilt nearly wrecked it.
The Commodores (3-6, 1-4 SEC) held Florida to 258 yards, including 57 in the second half. But the Gators (8-1, 6-1) did just enough on their next-to-last possession to set up Hardin's winning kick.
Hardin, who only handled kickoffs earlier in the game, drilled it.
Vanderbilt had one final chance, but failed to pick up a first down on a fourth-and-25 play. The Commodores gained positive yardage once in eight plays, but were aided by a holding call on fourth down and a targeting call a few plays later.
The Gators took a knee from there, setting off a wild celebration that Florida fans have been waiting on for years.
For half the game, it looked like Florida would leave the Swamp empty-handed.
Kelvin Taylor was stuffed most of the game, finishing with 47 yards rushing and a touchdown on 17 carries. Treon Harris completed 12 of 24 passes for 158 yards and was sacked three times.
Florida's main problem was turnovers. The Gators entered the game ranked second in the nation in turnover margin (plus-13), but turned the ball over four times.
Harris fumbled and threw his first interception of the season. Freshman defensive end CeCe Jefferson fumbled at the end of a fake field goal. And Demarcus Robinson coughed it up trying to gain extra yards.
Equally troubling for the Gators, after their lone touchdown — Kelvin Taylor's 11th scoring run of the season — walk-on Neal MacInnes shanked the extra point.
MacInnes, a senior studying to be a dental ceramist, won the open kicking competition last week. MacInnes was one of 216 students who responded to an open call after Florida lost Jorge Powell to a season-ending knee injury at LSU. MacInnes beat out former equipment staffer Donovan White and former Virginia Tech kicker Brooks Abbott.
He last kicked in a game in 2011 as a senior at Chamberlain High in Tampa — and it showed.
The Gators trotted him back out for a field goal early in the second quarter, but then called a fake. The pass play worked until Jefferson fumbled.
McElwain didn't make the same mistake with the game on the line. He turned to Hardin, a fourth-year junior who lost the job earlier this season.
Vanderbilt finished with 175 yards. Ralph Webb, who grew up in Gainesville, finished with 118 yards on the ground. His 73-yard touchdown run late in the first half put the Commodores up 7-6. It looked like it would hold until Tommy Openshaw shanked a 12-yard punt with 5:37 to play.
The Gators took over at the Vandy 45, picked up a first down and then sent Hardin on.