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Football game has halftime brawl, wild comeback, and a coach dressed as Darth Vader

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Dave Matter

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Missouri and Florida have never been considered football rivals. That could change after Saturday.

When Florida players appeared to object to a late hit on quarterback Kyle Trask on a Hail Mary pass to end the first half, members of both teams turned a shoving match into a brawl in the middle of the field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Punches were thrown before teammates and coaches could defuse the situation, and even then, once the players headed to the locker room, the drama wasn’t over.

Once both teams walked off the field, Gators coach Dan Mullen continued a heated exchange with Missouri’s Eli Drinkwitz and at one point had to be held back by Florida staff members. When the melee first erupted, Mullen appeared to go after Mizzou defensive coordinator Ryan Walters on the outskirts of the scrum. Once he cooled down, Mullen had a lengthy conversation with Drinkwitz, surrounded by both teams’ police security and the officiating crew.

After his team’s 41-17 loss, Drinkwitz was still unsure what started the fight.

“I was running in and saw one of their coaches on our hash yelling at our guys,” he said. “I saw one of their players join in. Then one of our players joined in. … It’s an ugly scene for college football. I’m not proud of it. I don’t know how it started it. We have to figure it out and get it fixed. It’s disappointing.”

After they separated, Mullen left for the locker room only to emerge and wave his arms wildly at the crowd. Wearing a Darth Vader costume to his postgame media conference, Mullen said he was trying to get his players off the field during the brawl because the Gators have a pivotal game next week against Georgia.

As a result of the fight, Florida defensive lineman Zachary Carter and linebacker Antwaun Powell were both ejected from the game, along with Missouri defensive end Tre Williams. Every other player on both teams was assessed one unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Missouri defensive tackle Markell Utsey also threw several punches in the scrum.

Mullen credited his team along with Drinkwitz and the Tigers for a peaceful second half.

“It’s not something we condone,” he said. “Obviously it’s not something that you really want to see in the game at all. It just shows the class of both teams being able to come out in the second half and just play football. Absolutely zero that carried over in the second half.”

Depth tested for both teams

The Tigers played without three starters on offense. Tight end Daniel Parker Jr. and right tackle Larry Borom did not make the trip to Gainesville after both left last week’s game against Kentucky with undisclosed injuries. Left guard Xavier Delgado, who also left last week’s week game early, made the trip, but freshman Dylan Spencer made his first career start in his place. Two defensive players who had been out with injuries were in uniform but weren’t part of the regular rotation: tackle Darius Robinson and end/Buck linebacker Jatorian Hansford.

Javon Foster, who replaced Borom late last week, made his first career start at right tackle. Through four games, Borom had been MU’s top-rated offensive player by Pro Football Focus, with a season grade of 84.2.

Meanwhile, Florida’s defense had some serious depth issues to solve. Three of UF’s starters in the secondary missed the game: free safety Shawn Davis, strong safety Donovan Stiner and cornerback Marco Wilson. Gators kicker Evan McPherson also missed the game.

Rountree gives chaseOn the verge of becoming the most prolific running back in Mizzou history, Larry Rountree III couldn’t get untracked against the Gators. Coming off consecutive 100-yard rushing games, Rountree finished with just 36 yards on 14 carries. The senior co-captain came into the game needing 54 yards to match Zack Abron for No. 2 on MU’s all-time list and the most among running backs in the program’s history. Rountree was effective in the passing game, catching a team-high six passes for 26 yards.

Game of inches

It was just a footnote by game’s end, but the Tigers might have missed a chance in the second quarter to extend one of their many drives that resulted in a punt. The offense stayed on the field for a fourth-and-1 play on its own 47-yard line and tried to draw the Gators offside for a first down. At least one defensive lineman flinched and appeared to cross into the neutral zone for what could have been a penalty, but the flag wasn’t thrown. Instead, MU called timeout and punted.

Did the Tigers think they drew Florida offside?

“Personally, yeah, but whatever happened happened,” right guard Case Cook said, “and there’s nothing we can do about it now.”

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