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Lamical Perine carries Florida to Orange Bowl win over Virginia

AP

Lamical Perine scored on a 61-yard run in the opening minute and didn’t stop until he climbed onto a platform for the postgame ceremony to receive the Orange Bowl’s most valuable player trophy.

Perine totaled 181 yards rushing and receiving with three touchdowns Monday to help No. 6 Florida beat Virginia 36-28.

The win means the Gators (11-2) will likely finish in the Top 10 in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2008-09. Second-year coach Dan Mullen credited Perine and the rest of the senior class with leading the resurgence.

“They restored the Gator standards and are building what we want to build,” said Mullen, who improved to 21-5 at Florida.

“My sophomore year, we were 4-7,” Perine said. “We came back and had two double-digit win seasons. It’s great, man.”

Perine carried 13 times for a career-high 138 yards rushing at the end of a so-so senior season. He came into the game with only 538 yards rushing this year in the Gators’ pass-oriented offense.

“He’s one of the top running backs in the SEC,” Mullen said. “People say, ‘The stats say this, the stats say that.’ But every time we needed a big run this season, he came up with it.”

Perine was too quick and speedy for the Cavaliers, as his dash through their secondary on the first series showed. He also scored on a 10-yard run and caught a 16-yard touchdown pass from Kyle Trask.

The Cavaliers (9-5) lost their final two games but still posted their highest win total since 2007.

Trask capped a storybook junior season by throwing for 305 yards. He was lightly recruited and in late September became a starter for the first time since ninth grade.

Florida totaled 549 yards, including a season-high 244 rushing, and didn’t punt until midway through the third quarter. The Gators exposed the weaknesses in a Virginia defense that allowed more than 23 points per game and gave up 62 to Clemson in an Atlantic Coast Conference title game loss.

“Tonight we faced a team that they decided they were going to stop the pass and drop a lot of guys into coverage,” Mullen said. “We were able to take what they were giving us.”

The Cavaliers’ offense tried valiantly to keep up. Senior Bryce Perkins threw for 323 yards and four scores in the final game of his career.

“I’m not into moral victories, but I’m proud of these guys and the culture we set,” Perkins said. “Next year, these guys are going to be a force to reckoned with.”

Perkins completed his two years at the helm of the Viriginia offense with 6,218 passing yards.

And while that is how he walked off the field for the final time as a collegian, keep in mind all he went through to get to the Orange Bowl. How he went to Arizona State originally, didn’t play as a true freshman and then missed the subsequent year because of a broken neck that could have derailed his football career.

He got his game back at a place called Arizona Western Community College, which he led to the junior college national championship game in 2017.

“I continue to be amazed and impressed by Bryce Perkins,” an emotional Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall said after the game.

Perkins got to Virginia in January 2018. The Cavaliers have played 27 games since. He started all 27, got Virginia its first Atlantic Coast Conference Coastal Division title this season — as well as the long-awaited win over archrival Virginia Tech after 15 consecutive losses in the series.

Before Perkins arrived, Virginia had one quarterback in 128 years of football throw for 200 yards and rush for 100 in the same game — Bob Davis did it once, in 1965. Perkins did it five times in his two seasons with the Cavaliers, three times this November alone. And he points to his skillset as something he thinks the NFL wants right now.