GA­TORS:

UF shocks Ten­nessee on 63-yard TD pass with no time left.

Tampa Bay Times - - Sports - BY MATT BAKER Times Staff Writer

GAINESVILLE — For­get 50 min­utes of aw­ful foot­ball.

No. 24 Florida de­liv­ered one of the most im­prob­a­ble plays in school his­tory Satur­day— a 63-yard bomb from quar­ter­back Feleipe Franks to Tyrie Cleve­land, who caught it in the end zone as time ex­pired to give the Ga­tors a 26-20 win over No. 23 Ten­nessee.

“I was just shocked that it all hap­pened,” Cleve­land said.

His shock is un­der­stand­able, given every­thing that pre­ceded it.

There were off-the-field prob­lems. The af­ter­math of Hur­ri­cane Irma, which can­celed last week’s game and af­fected the fam­i­lies of 60 team mem­bers. The on­go­ing drama with nine in­def­i­nitely sus­pended play­ers.

There were on-the-field prob­lems — mostly a messy of­fense that couldn’t even be fixed when it faced an aw­ful Vol­un­teers de­fense.

Ten­nessee (2-1, 0-1 SEC) en­tered Satur­day giv­ing up an aver­age of 591 of­fen­sive yards against its past five Divi­sion I-A op­po­nents. UF (1-1, 1-0) to­taled 309 through the first 55 min­utes, against a lineup with­out safeties Evan Berry and Todd Kelly.

The Ga­tors still haven’t rushed for a score in eight games, and they went more than eight quar­ters with­out scor­ing an of­fen­sive touch­down. Coach Jim McEl­wain said his play­ers sim­ply weren’t win­ning their one-onone matchups.

Then, as a po­ten­tial tail­spin loomed, some­thing changed.

“They’ve been through some things, but you know what?” McEl­wain said. “They just keep go­ing.”

It started with a seven-play, 44-yard drive that ended with Franks’ first ca­reer touch­down pass, a 5-yarder to Bran­don Powell that ex­tended UF’s lead to 20-10 with 5:13 left. Given the cir­cum­stances — Florida ran only 15 plays in its pre­vi­ous five drives — it might have been as im­pres­sive as any of the McEl­wain era.

Un­til the last one.

After al­low­ing two scores in four min­utes, UF took over at its 25 with 50 sec­onds left and the score tied at 20. McEl­wain wanted to drive to around the Ten­nessee 35, just in­side the field-goal range of kicker Eddy Pineiro.

At their 37 with nine sec­onds left, the Ga­tors called Train Right Open, Big Ben In — sim­i­lar to An­to­nio Call­away’s 63-yard catch and run on fourth and 14 in the fi­nal minute that beat the Vols at Ben Hill Grif­fin Sta­dium two years ago (Train Right Jill, Big Ben In).

Cleve­land lined up left, ready to run a go route.

“I told Feleipe, ‘Give me a chance,’ ” Cleve­land said.

It wasn’t quite that easy.

The pocket be­gan to crack. De­fen­sive line­man Jonathan Kongbo nearly tripped up Franks, forc­ing him to roll right. Franks was think­ing about just run­ning with it when out of the corner of his eye he saw Cleve­land streak­ing.

“It was kind of an in-the-mo­ment thing,” Franks said of his only pass at­tempt of 10 yards or more that he com­pleted in the game.

Cleve­land was open be­cause he cor­rectly read Ten­nessee’s tight cov­er­age. He dipped his route in­side to shed the press, then blazed ahead of safety Micah Aber­nathy with the speed that made him one of 2016’s top re­ceiver prospects.

All that was left was for Franks to set his feet and fire it from the UF 36. It’s the kind of deep ball Franks and Cleve­land prac­tice all the time, on a play they prac­tice ev­ery Fri­day.

“You never know when we’re go­ing to need it,” Cleve­land said.

Although Cleve­land had a step on two de­fend­ers, Franks called the bomb a 50-50 ball — the kind of oneon-one matchup UF failed to win two weeks ago against Michi­gan.

This time, fi­nally, it worked. Cleve­land cor­ralled it in the end zone as time ex­pired.

His team­mates dog­piled on him. The an­nounced crowd of 87,736 went berserk. And after a trou­ble­some start to McEl­wain’s third sea­son, the Ga­tors fi­nally had some­thing to cel­e­brate.

“I think,” McEl­wain said, “this was a pretty good rem­edy for that.”

As­so­ci­ated Press

Florida re­ceiver Tyrie Cleve­land se­cures the win­ning 63-yard touch­down pass in front of Ten­nessee safety Micah Aber­nathy as time ex­pires. Cleve­land and quar­ter­back Feleipe Franks reg­u­larly prac­tice deep routes. “I told Feleipe, ‘Give me a chance,’ ” Cleve­land says of the fi­nal play, the only pass at­tempt of 10 yards or more that the Ga­tors com­pleted the en­tire game.

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