No. 24 Florida beats 23rd-ranked Ten­nessee 26-20 on a Hail Mary

The Mercury (Pottstown, PA) - - SPORTS - By Mark Long

GAINESVILLE, FLA. » Feleipe Franks heaved a 63-yard touch­down pass to Tyrie Cleve­land as the clock ex­pired, and No. 24 Florida beat 23rd-ranked Ten­nessee 26-20 in a wild, wacky and some­times un­watch­able ri­valry game Satur­day.

Franks scram­bled away from the rush on a fir­stand-10 play with 9 sec­onds re­main­ing and found Cleve­land behind safety Micah Aber­nathy for a Hail Mary that no one — es­pe­cially the Vol­un­teers — saw com­ing.

The fi­nal play capped a crazy fourth quar­ter in which the teams com­bined for 37 points and lit­tle, if any, de­fense.

“Oh my gosh, it’s in­de­scrib­able,” Franks said. “You grow up wait­ing for mo­ments like that to hap­pen in your life, and when it does hap­pen, you don’t have any words to de­scribe it.”

Here’s one: Un­pre­dictable.

Ten­nessee (2-1, 0-1 South­east­ern Con­fer­ence) can blame three missed field goals for not be­ing ahead late. The Ga­tors (1-1, 1-0) looked as if they had the game in hand early in the fi­nal frame, but found a way to let the Vol­un­teers get back in it.

Franks had one huge mis­take — an in­ter­cep­tion in Florida ter­ri­tory that set up Ten­nessee’s ty­ing field goal. The Vols had three plays from the 9, but failed to get in the end zone and set­tled for three points with 50 sec­onds left.

It looked for sure as if it was headed for over­time — and then Franks found Cleve­land.

“It’s crazy, it’s crazy,” Cleve­land said. “I think this is about the fastest I ever ran.”

Fel­low re­ceiver Bran­don Pow­ell was the first to con­grat­u­late Cleve­land in the end zone. Pow­ell slapped him so hard up­side the hel­met that it knocked his mouth­piece out. Their team­mates and coaches — all of them — piled on a few sec­onds later. It was a sur­real scene, es­pe­cially for a team that didn’t score an of­fen­sive touch­down in the first seven quar­ters of the sea­son.

Cleve­land was one of the last play­ers on the field. As he walked into the tun­nel and to­ward the locker room, he turned and waved a fi­nal time to cheer­ing fans.

He could have taken a bow.

“It was noth­ing to do with me,” coach Jim McEl­wain said. “Some­times things like that are re­ally special. I’ve got some burned im­ages in my mind that I will carry with me the rest of my life.”

There was lit­tle to re­mem­ber from the first three quar­ters. The de­fenses were mostly stout, but there were plenty of of­fen­sive mis­takes and count­less ques­tion­able play calls. Ten­nessee coaches, play­ers and fans surely won’t for­get hav­ing the ball first-and-goal at the 1 and nearly throw­ing an in­ter­cep­tion on first down and then get­ting flagged for a false start on sec­ond. The drive ended with an in­ter­cep­tion.


Florida wide re­ceiver Tyrie Cleve­land, bot­tom left, cel­e­brates his game-win­ning touch­down with team­mate Bran­don Pow­ell while Ten­nessee de­fen­sive back Micah Aber­nathy (22) hangs his head de­jected as time ex­pires Satur­day in Gainesville, Fla.

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