GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) - Florida needed a huge performance from Jeff Demps to beat Vanderbilt and end a four-game losing streak.
Demps ran for a career-high 158 yards and two touchdowns, shouldering the load because of Chris Rainey's ankle injury, and the Gators held off the Commodores 26-21 on Saturday. The Gators now have won 21 in a row against Vanderbilt, extending their dominance in a series that has been one-sided since 1989.
The latest one was one of the closest in recent years. Florida (5-4, 3-4 Southeastern Conference) led 17-0 at halftime and could have been up more had it not been for a missed field goal and a fumble at the goal line. But Vanderbilt (4-5, 1-5) scored on consecutive drives in the second half, cutting the lead to 20-14, and had a chance to move ahead.
It didn't happen. Florida took advantage of two penalties to keep a drive alive, and Demps went untouched for a 52-yard score with 2:13 remaining. Jordan Rodgers' touchdown pass to Chris Boyd in the closing minutes made it 26-21, but Florida's Jordan Reed recovered an onside kick to seal the victory.
Rodgers, the younger brother of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, carved up Florida's secondary. He completed 19 of 28 passes for 297 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for a score.
Vandy's Jordan Matthews caught nine passes for 170 yards and a touchdown.
Demps was a one-man highlight reel for the Gators. He scored on a 5-yard run in the second quarter, but saved his best play for last. He juked Kenny Ladler on a third-and-1 play and went the distance.
Florida's John Brantley was 16 of 24 passing for 173 yards, but he injured his right shoulder late in the fourth. Jacoby Brissett replaced him and finished out the game. The biggest difference was penalties.
Florida, the most penalized team in the nation, was flagged three times for 17 yards. Vanderbilt was flagged 12 times for 106 yards. The last two were really crucial. The Gators lined up to go for it on a fourth-and-1 play from their own 15-yard line. Trey Burton lined up under center, barked out cadences and got Rob Lohr to jump off sides.
Three plays later, Brissett rolled right and threw a pass up for grabs near the sideline. Sean Richardson was flagged for pass interference on the play, moving the chains and keeping the drive alive. Demps did the rest.
Florida won for the first time Sept. 24. The Gators, facing four consecutive ranked teams for the first time in school history, dropped games to Alabama, LSU, Auburn and Georgia.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)