Florida Gators fans looked on as their team fell behind 17-0 to the fifth-ranked Auburn Tigers in 1986.
Chances of beating the Southeastern Conference rival were dwindling.
Enter Kerwin Bell.
Kerwin Bell’s Comeback Over Auburn
Kerwin Bell was the Gators’ No. 1 quarterback for the majority of the 1986 season, but a knee injury kept him sidelined.
Head coach Galen Hall had his back against the wall. He called Bell’s number and sent him in for the second half.
UF laid another goose egg in the third, but Bell was just getting warmed up.
The signal caller led the offense down the field for a touchdown to open the fourth quarter. He then led another drive that resulted in a Robert McGinty 51-yard field goal.
With the score 17-10, the Gators had some life again.
Bell and the offense took over deep in their own territory their next possession. He milked the clock for everything it’s worth and drove down to Auburn’s 5-yard line. The hobbled Bell threw a touchdown pass to hobbled wide receiver Ricky Nattiel — who was playing with a separated shoulder — in the corner of the end zone.
17-16 Auburn. 36 seconds remaining.
Hall’s decision was easy. They were going for the win.
Bell dropped back and the pocket quickly shrunk. He scrambled to his left, one leg and all, and dove for the goal line. Florida fans held their breath as their QB sacrificed his entire body for the win.
He got it, and The Swamp was soaked again.
The Tigers drove the ball into Florida territory. Kicker Chris Knapp lined up for a 53-yard field goal try. The Gainesville crowd was going absolutely bonkers.
Short. 18-17 Florida.
Bell’s 18-point comeback holds a special place in Florida lore. It arrived in the middle of the probation term following infractions under former head coach Charley Pell. Penalties included bans from bowl games and live TV and the loss of 20 scholarships over three years.
There’s the jump pass from Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow, the national championships under Urban Meyer, the SEC titles, and the Steve Spurrier era. The 18-point comeback is as memorable as any of them.
The Gators had the chips stacked against them and Auburn was one of the best teams in college football — at least for the first three quarters.