RAINBOW BRINGS REJOICING
Fairy-tale ending result of offseason practice by Franks and Cleveland
GAINESVILLE — Feleipe Franks and Tyrie Cleveland practiced the play during the offseason and still do some days at the end of practice.
The redshirt freshman quarterback would tell the sophomore wide receiver to run as fast as he can as far as he can and look up. The ball would be there.
On Saturday, it was on the money when it mattered most.
Franks’ 63-yard bomb found Cleveland in the end zone on the final play to stun the rival Tennessee Volunteers 26-20.
The play is one every kid who has touched a football dreams about making. But this fairy-tale ending actually came true for Franks, Cleveland and a UF team in need of a big win and a jolt of confidence — especially on offense.
“It’s kind of hard to take it all in right now,” Franks said. “As a kid, you always think of plays happening like that and then when it happens it’s indescribable.”
The play concluded one of the wildest fourth quarters for a series dating to 1916 and sent an announced crowd of 87,736 in the Swamp into a frenzy as everyone on the Gators’ sideline surged onto the field.
Senior receiver Brandon Powell first found Cleveland in the end zone, congratulating him with a helmet slap that knocked out Cleveland’s mouthpiece. Teammates and coaches soon followed.
“It was crazy just making that play for the team and the coaches,” Cleveland said. “I was just shocked it all happened.”
Franks barely could recall what had transpired.
“It’s kind of hard to remember, I was so excited through the whole thing,” he said.
Everyone in the Swamp similarly was stunned and likely struggling to sort it all out, too.
A three-quarter slough that ended with UF (1-1, 1-0 SEC) leading 6-3 turned into a fourth-quarter shootout featuring 37 points. A 27-yard field goal by senior kicker Aaron Medley tied the game at 20-20 with 50 seconds remaining and set the stage for overtime in a series known for its unpredictable finishes in recent seasons.
But with the Gators facing first-and-10 from their 37-yard line with nine seconds remaining, Franks found himself in the position to take a game-winning shot downfield.
The 19-year-old from the Florida Panhandle said he initially was looking to get kicker Eddy Piñeiro into field-goal range. Franks said he then saw out of the corner of his eye Cleveland slipping behind the Vols’ defense.
Franks just trusted his instincts, Cleveland’s sprinter’s speed and the work the two of them had put in.
“It was an in-the-moment play,” Franks said.
The play also was right in Franks’ wheelhouse. The 6-foot-5, 227-pounder is blessed with a cannon arm and enjoys using it whenever he can.
“For me, I love throwing the ball deep,” he said. “That’s fun, stretch the field a little bit — and definitely have the receivers to do that.”
No one on the Gators’ roster is better at it than Cleveland. During last season’s 16-10 upset at LSU, his 98-yard touchdown was the biggest play for UF’s offense and the Gators’ longest pass play since 1977.
Cleveland said Saturday’s catch, though, was much bigger.
It certainly was for a beleaguered offense and a head coach under increasing criticism for the sputtering attack he was hired to fix.
Powell’s 5-yard touchdown catch with 5:13 remaining gave the Gators a 20-10 lead and also marked the team’s first score on offense since the third quarter of the Outback Bowl on Jan. 2 — a span of more than eight quarters.
Much of the day, though, the Gators’ play calls drew grumbles from the crowd and produced no points.
“It obviously was not pretty,” UF coach Jim McElwain said. “But sometimes in this business it’s about figuring out a way to win.”
To pull off the biggest play of his career, Franks had to overcome what could have been his biggest mistake.
With UF clinging to a 20-17 lead, Franks’ pass went through the hands tight end C’yontai Lewis and into the hands of the Vols’ Rashaan Gaulden.
“He was very calm,” McElwain said of Franks. “He didn’t get rattled.”
Tennessee (2-1, 0-1) faced first-and-goal on the Gators’ 9 but had to settle for a field goal that tied the game at 20. It set the stage for a play a young quarterback and receiver could only dream about.
Once the ball was in the air, though, Cleveland was sure the Gators would win the game on the play.
“I knew I had it,” he said “I knew I would come down with it. I made it may business to come down with it.”
Tyrie Cleveland’s Gator teammates pile on in celebration of the receiver’s last-play game-winning touchdown catch.