Florida safety Josh Evans, top, pulls down Florida State running back Lonnie Pryor, bottom, who tries to gain yardage during the second half of Saturday's game.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida State linebacker Nigel Bradham grabbed the gator head, hoisted it into the air and started running around the field.
Teammates hooted and hollered. Coaches smiled in approval. Fans cheered wildly from the stands. The Seminoles had cause for celebration, having won in Gainesville for the first time since 2003.
Devonta Freeman had two short touchdown runs following turnovers, and Florida State beat rival Florida 21-7 on Saturday night despite only 95 yards of offense.
The Seminoles (8-4) were inept most of the night, but they took advantage of John Brantley's first-half mistakes and later knocked the senior quarterback out for good. It was the difference in an offensively ugly game that had as many punts (18) as first downs.
"Our defense played unbelievable," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. "That was one of the best defensive efforts I've seen in my 23 years."
The 'Noles sealed their second consecutive win in the once-revered series when Terrance Parks intercepted Jacoby Brissett's pass in the fourth quarter and returned it 29 yards for a score, which sent many of the 90,798 on hand scrambling for the exits.
The Gators (6-6) avoided their first shutout since 1988 when Brissett found Quinton Dunbar for a 6-yard score with 4:16 remaining.
"It's very frustrating," Florida defensive tackle Omar Hunter said. "We feel like we could have won that game. Not to say they didn't do anything to beat us, but we felt like we made a lot of mistakes ourselves and beat ourselves."
Florida coach Will Muschamp called his team soft after the game.
"It falls on one guy's shoulders and that's mine," Muschamp said. "It's going to get corrected and we're going to be fine. We've got a good, young, solid football team. I know everybody's frustrated. I get that, I really do. I'm frustrated, too, more than you guys are, more than anybody sitting in that stadium. ...
"I know patience is a bad, bad word. I'm not asking for it. I also think you've got to be realistic. When you have an education, you have to be realistic some days."
Realistically, Florida's shot ended with Brantley's injury.
He was sandwiched between two defenders as he released a pass late in the second quarter and sustained an apparent concussion. He stayed on the ground, slipped off his helmet and eventually walked off the field with help from trainers. He was on the receiving end of helmet-to-helmet contact, which also caused bleeding to his left cheek.
Brissett replaced Brantley and did little to rally the Gators (6-6) from a 14-point deficit.
Brantley completed 9 of 15 passes for 104 yards, with three interceptions, and ended the worst game of his career in the locker room. Brissett was 4 of 13 for 27 yards.
EJ Manuel wasn't much better for Florida State. He was 6 of 13 for 65 yards and was sacked four times on a mostly miserable night in which the Seminoles managed seven first downs.
"We thought we might have to throw a shutout to get a win," FSU defensive tackle Everett Dawkins said. "We were disappointed they got the one score on us. Our offense just wasn't moving the ball tonight, so we had to step it up big on defense. This was, by far, our best defensive effort of the year."
Turnovers were the difference.
Brantley was picked off on three of Florida's first five possessions. All three were bad throws, prompting some boos and plenty of speculation that he might get benched in his home finale.
Brantley telegraphed a long throw across the field, and Greg Reid stepped in front of Dunbar and intercepted the pass. Freeman took over from there, but he also got some help.
Florida's Ronald Powell was flagged for a personal foul on third down, giving FSU a first-and-goal at the 1. Freeman sneaked across the line on the next play.
Brantley's second interception was even more inexcusable, maybe the worst of his career. He scrambled right and threw a balloon ball across the field and into triple coverage. Mike Harris plucked that one out of the air and returned it 89 yards. Florida's Deonte Thompson made a touchdown-saving tackle at the 4-yard line, but Freeman scored three plays later to make it 14-0.
The Gators outgained Florida State by nearly a hundred yards (184-95). But the scoreboard is all that matters in a series that used to be one of the most respected in college football.
Now, though, it has devolved into a battle for bragging rights and talk about a mythical state championship. The latest matchup was the first time since 1988 that neither team was ranked.
And both teams looked the part.
What may have seemed like great defense was really just pathetic offense.
There were poor passes, blown blocking assignments and strange play calls.
The oddest play of the night came on a fourth-and-inches play in the second quarter. With Brantley struggling, the Gators lined up tight end Trey Burton at quarterback and ran him into Florida State's vaunted front. Burton was stuffed, then tried to reverse field and make something happen. He ended up losing 14 yards.
"It is what it is. What can you say?" Gators linebacker Jon Bostic said. "We have to work on everything. ... Obviously, the outcome shows it. We have to get better. That's the main thing."