In the first game in Gainesville since Hurricane Irma blew through most of the state, the Florida Gators (1-1, 1-0) used a Hail Mary for a 26-20 win over the Tennessee Volunteers (2-1, 0-1) at the Swamp. The win caps an emotional week for a state reeling from the impacts of one of the largest storms in history.
The first half was very much the typical start Gators fans have come to expect and grow weary of - a battle of field goals. Eddy Pineiro hit a 27-yard strike in the first quarter and a 41-yard one in the second to give the Gators an early 6-0 lead. The Volunteers did strike with a 51-yard field goal from Brent Cimalga, but squandered opportunities, including throwing two interceptions (one in the Florida red zone) and missing a field goal at the end of the half that left the Gators with a 6-3 lead at halftime.
After a scoreless third quarter, the Gators looked like they may pull away in the fourth. After CJ Henderson intercepted a pass for a 16-yard pick six, the Gators believed they had scored their first offensive touchdown of the season when Malik Davis broke loose a 74-yard run that was believed to be a score. However, on further review it was revealed he lost control of the ball before going into the end zone, and the ball went out of the endzone for a touchback and Tennessee football. From there, the Vols answered with a John Kelly 34-yard touchdown to cut the Gators lead to 13-10. The very next drive Florida answered to make it 20-10, but Tennessee would not go down easily, first getting a 28-yard touchdown pass to Ethan Wolf to make it 20-17. Tennessee promptly grabbed an interception and orchestrated a long drive down the field that culminated in a 27-yard field goal to tie the game at 20 with fifty seconds to go in the game.
The Gators offense then came to life for what will be one of the most dramatic finishes of the season. With some fans thinking the Gators would play for overtime, Feleipe Franks hit Tyrie Cleveland on a 63-yard pass as time expired, which he hauled in for the dramatic touchdown that lifted the Gators to a 26-20 win. After the game, Cleveland told CBS "I can't even describe it right now...it's crazy. We just stayed focused and stayed calm and stayed relaxed...and kept faith."
Feleipe Franks finished 18-for-28 with 212 yards in the air, two touchdowns and one interception for the Gators. Malik Davis led the running game with 73 yards, while Tyrie Cleveland finished the game with 93 yards in the air, and one touchdown he'll never forget. For the Volunteers, Quenten Dormandy finished 21-for-39 with 259 yards and a touchdown in the air. John Kelly led all rushers with 141 yards on the ground and a touchdown, as well as leading all receivers with six grabs for 96 yards through the air.
The Florida Gators continue SEC play next week when they head to Lexington to battle the Kentucky Wildcats. Check out that game in Tampa Bay on our sister station AM 1250 WHNZ.