MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – Lamical Perine rushed for 138 yards on 13 carries and scored three touchdowns to help No. 6 Florida defeat Virginia 36-28 in Monday night’s Orange Bowl at Hard Rock Stadium.
The Gators (11-2, No. 9 College Football Playoff) capped their first 11-win season since 2012 and improved to 4-0 all-time at the Orange Bowl.
It took Florida just 40 seconds to put points on the scoreboard. Perine rushed 61 yards into the end zone on the third play of the game to give the Gators a 7-0 lead.
After punting on their opening possession, the Cavaliers (9-5, No. 24 CFP) evened the score on the first play of their second drive when quarterback Bryce Perkins connected with wide receiver Terrell Jana on a 34-yard touchdown.
Perine’s second touchdown of the quarter came on a 16-yard reception from quarterback Kyle Trask to culminate a 13-play, 75-yard drive for the Gators.
Perkins found Hasise Dubois in the back of the end zone for a 9-yard score at the start of the second quarter to cap a 14-play, 88-yard drive that lasted 6:33.
The Gators scored 10 unanswered points to end the first half, taking a 17-14 lead on a 23-yard field goal from Evan McPherson. Perine’s third touchdown -- a 10-yard scamper with 2:13 remaining before the break -- cushioned Florida’s lead to 24-14.
“Just getting put in the right situations, honestly,” Perine said of his performance. “The guy next to me is a great head coach and great guy, so he just schemes it up every week, makes sure he puts players in the best position.”
After McPherson’s 49-yard field goal with 16 seconds left in the third quarter put the Gators ahead 27-14, Virginia cut the lead to within six on a 7-yard touchdown from Perkins to Joe Reed with 13:05 left to play.
Trask crossed the goal line for a 1-yard touchdown at the 9:33 mark and McPherson scored Florida’s final points of the game on a 42-yard field goal with 2:32 remaining.
Perkins completed 28-of-40 pass attempts for 323 yards and four touchdowns, including a 2-yard score to Dubois in the final minute. He was also Virginia’s leading rusher, carrying the ball 14 times for 24 yards.
Trask finished 24-of-39 for 305 yards and a touchdown.
“I couldn’t be more happy the way that my teammates had my back when I won versus Kentucky, and we just continued to grind every single week and get better each and every single week, and here we are winning the Orange Bowl,” Trask said. “That’s pretty incredible.”
Dan Mullen, whose Mississippi State team was upset by Georgia Tech in the 2014 Orange Bowl, improved to 7-2 in bowl games as a head coach. Already the first Florida coach to reach double-digit wins in each of his first two seasons, Mullen also becomes the only coach to lead the Gators to back-to-back New Year's Six bowl victories to begin his tenure.
That includes Steve Spurrier, who coached his final game as a Gator in the 2002 Orange Bowl and took part in the pregame coin toss.
“This is why those guys came to Florida, to play in big games, play on the biggest stage, to be one of the best programs in the country,” Mullen said. “And to do that in back-to-back years, if you want to be able to be a championship program, you’ve got to win consistently. ... You’ve got to be a consistent winner to go be a championship program, and I think the guys here in our program are helping us build that.”
Virginia lost on the same field for the second time in three months. The Cavaliers lost to Miami at Hard Rock Stadium in October.
“I think they hung in very well, and I think especially in the second half they played as we would have hoped they played,” Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “Our two defensive captains certainly got hurt. We lost Brenton Nelson along the way, also, and others. But that’s college football. The defensive unit today gave us a great chance all the way to an onside kick to win the game. We didn’t, so it wasn’t quite enough, but I was proud of their effort.”