GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — The Southeastern Conference suspended three Florida players and one Tennessee player for their roles in a fight that started on what was supposed to be the last play of their game Saturday night.
The half-game punishments were doled out Monday after video review and consultation between the league office and both universities.
No. 25 Florida will be without right tackle Damieon George, guard Micah Mazzccua and tight end Dante Zanders on Saturday for the first half against Charlotte in Gainesville. Defensive lineman Omarr Norman-Lott will miss the first half of No. 23 Tennessee's game against UTSA on Saturday in Knoxville.
The fight started when Florida quarterback Graham Mertz was slow to take a knee on a fourth-and-16 play with 9 seconds remaining in the Gators' 29-16 victory in the Swamp. Tennessee defensive lineman Omari Thomas bumped into Mertz as he finally took a knee, and Florida left tackle Austin Barber took exception.
Benches cleared, and Tennessee defensive back Kamal Hadden and Florida's Mazzccua squared off like boxers. Mazzccua eventually threw a punch that missed.
George was initially flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct and Thomas for targeting. But neither flag was enforced. Officials forced the teams to return to the field to play one more down.
Replays showed George shoving Thomas and then landing a punch that knocked off Norman-Lott's helmet. Norman-Lott had previously swung at Barber.
“We got staff members that probably need to be disciplined as well,” Florida coach Billy Napier said Monday before the discipline was announced. “Ultimately, that’s a teachable moment. It’s an opportunity for us to talk about composure and poise, ego, temper.”
Even after coaches and officials separated the teams, Florida center Kingsley Eguakun could be seen going after his staff members who broke up the skirmish.
“We had multiple players that screwed up,” Napier said. "They compromised the entire team ‘cause you may not be available in the future, whatever the case may be. No different than some guy calls you a name at the local bar on Friday night. Are you going to compromise your wife and kids, make a poor decision?
“These things are teachable moments. Ultimately hopefully we do enough on our part to teach them.”
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