Once again, the Third Saturday in September ends in a thriller. A game that was a snooze-fest for most of three quarters quickly turned into a fierce back and forth, ending with Feleipe Franks’ 63 yard Hail Mary to Tyrie Cleveland with no time on the clock. The Volunteers leave Gainesville stunned for the second consecutive trip to a final score of 26 - 20.
The first half ended with the Gators leading 6-3 and neither team being able to move the ball, especially when entering the red zone. Tennessee Kicker Brent Cimaglia connected from 51 and Florida kicker Eddy Piniero hit from 27 and 41. The teams entered the break separated by only seven yards of total offense. The Gators held the tight edge 141-134, but neither team threatened the end zone.
Florida running back Lamical Perine broke a nice 28-yard run in the third quarter, but fumbled giving the ball back to the Vols. Tennessee responded with a 43 yard drive to the Florida one yard line before Quniten Dormady’s second interception of the game was snagged by Duke Dawson at the goal line.
After another Tennessee missed field goal and two Florida punts, the Vols began the fourth quarter at their own 8 yard line. The 1st & 10 pass was tipped and intercepted by freshman cornerback CJ Henderson who slid down the sideline for his second pick-six of the year, and the Gators’ third interception of Dormady on the day.
After another missed field goal by the Vols, the Gators led 13-3 midway through the fourth quarter when true freshman running back Malik Davis took a hand off and scampered 74 yards to the end zone. Davis appeared to cross the goal line, but a great effort by Volunteer corner back Justin Martin caused a fumble which ended in a Tennessee touch back.
The Vols used the momentum to promptly cap off a 5-play 80-yard drive with a 34 yard touchdown run by John Kelly to get Tennessee within three. Kelly celebrated with a Gator Chomp after the score and was flagged allowing Cleveland to return the kickoff to the Tennessee 44 yard line.
Franks used the short field well and in seven plays hit wide receiver Brandon Powell for a five yard touchdown pass to give the Gators the lead 20-10 with 5:13 in the game. This score ended the Gators’ streak of seven consecutive quarters without an offensive touchdown. Dormady and Kelly responded beautifully with a 52 yard connection and one play later tight end Ethan Wolfe caught a perfect wheel route at the pylon for a touchdown. The Vols came within three with 4:43 remaining.
The next drive by the Gators was only two plays long as the freshman Franks tried to hit tight end Cyontai Lewis and was intercepted by Rashaan Gaulden on a throw that should have been caught. The eager Volunteers took over with momentum on their side, drove 31 yards in eight plays, and nailed a 27 yard field goal to tie the game at 20-20 with only 50 seconds remaining.
What looked like a sure bet for overtime only gave the Gators a few chances to launch the ball down field or get into Piniero’s long field goal range. After some strange clock management by McElwain, the Gators had first and ten at their own 37 yard line with nine seconds remaining in the game. One last 63-yard heave by Franks connected with Cleveland as he slid behind Volunteer free safety Micah Abernathy in the end zone with no time remaining. The exuberant Gators dog-piled the offense under the goal posts as the Gators stun the Volunteers again with a 26-20 victory on the last play of the game.
Tennessee quarterback Quinten Dormady ended the day with 259 yards on 21 of 39 passing and one touch down and three interceptions. Stud running back John Kelley was the highlight of the offense with 237 total yards and a touchdown on 25 total touches. The Volunteers out-gained the Gators 442-380 in total yards and held the ball almost six minutes more than the Gators. The defense played well enough to win, but three missed field goals, three interceptions and some questionable red zone play calling ultimately led to the loss.
Gator quarterback Feleipe Franks went 18-28 with 212 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He connected with seven different receivers and protected the ball. The leading rusher in orange and blue was the freshman Malik Davis with 94 touches on 4 carries, and Perine and Mark Thompson added another 85.
Overall the game was a slug, ended in fireworks and became another epic chapter in the Tennessee-Florida Rivalry. Tennessee broke the 11-game losing streak last year and Florida returns the favor at home this year.
Next week, the Vols (2-1) host UMass (0-4) while the Gators (1-1) hit the road to take on the Kentucky Wildcats (3-0) in Lexington.
Gator over the Vols... Again.