GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The No. 24 Florida Gators pulled off a last-second win for the ages at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Saturday with Feleipe Franks tossing a 63-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland in the end zone as time expired for a 26-20 win over No. 23 Tennessee.
The Gators are now 1-1 on the season and look to have found the momentum they lost following their season-opening loss to Michigan and canceled home opener against Northern Colorado last week.
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Here’s a closer, visual look at Florida’s win by beat writer Jordan McPherson.
It looked like the Gators and Volunteers were on their way to overtime for the first time in the series since 1998.
Instead, Florida found offensive life at the last possible second. With 9 seconds left on the clock, Franks took the snap, rolled out of the pocket and heaved a pass deep down the middle of the field for Cleveland, a sophomore.
Cleveland broke his coverage from Tennessee’s Micah Abernathy and dove into the end zone as he caught the 63-yard pass.
After the play, the Gators stormed the field from their sideline and mobbed an emotional Cleveland in the end zone.
Florida’s first sign of life once again came on the back of its defense. With the Gators leading 9-3 early in the fourth quarter, freshman defensive back C.J. Henderson intercepted a pass down the right sideline from Tennessee quarterback Quinten Dormandy and returned it 16 yards before side-stepping into the end zone for the first touchdown of the game. Henderson became the first Florida player with pick-sixes in back-to-back games since 1996.
Franks finished his first start in front of his home crowd with 212 yards on 18-of-28 passing with 2 touchdowns and an interception. He led the offense to touchdowns on two of the final three drives, culminating with the heave to Cleveland as time expired to win the game.
Two of Florida’s highlight performers on offense were freshmen Kadarius Toney and Malik Davis. Davis (photo above), had a team-best 94 rushing yards on 4 carries. The bulk of his production came on a 72-yard scamper in which he cut past a couple Tennessee defenders, raced toward the left sideline and went down field. However, Davis fumbled as he went into the end zone, which resulted in a turnover.
Toney, an electric slot receiver who McElwain called “a human joystick” had 4 catches for 40 yards and almost hauled in a diving 30-yard touchdown pass in the end zone (photo below).
David Reese got the defense going by forcing Tennessee to throw an interception on the first drive of the game — the first of three turnovers that Florida forced — and he finished with tied with Marco Wilson with a team-high 7 tackles.
After holding Tennessee to just 3 points through the first three quarters, the Gators gave up 17 points in the final nine minutes of the game, including touchdowns of 34 and 28 yards along with a 27-yard field goal that tied the game with 50 seconds remaining.
The defensive line kept Tennessee at bay, forcing 9 quarterback hurries, 5 tackles for loss and a sack.
After having to wait an extra week to play in front of their home crowd, the Gators made sure there was high energy throughout the whole game.