Saturday’s SEC opener for No. 23 Tennessee and No. 24 Florida wasn’t a pretty one, but in the end the host Gators authored a finish that few will forget anytime soon.
On the game’s final play, quarterback Feleipe Franks scrambled to buy himself some time before throwing a 63-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland, giving Florida the win by the final score of 26-20. Florida allowed some extra time to run off of the clock ahead of a third-down rushing attempt on the final drive, but there was more than enough time remaining for one last play.
Instead of using the nine seconds and two timeouts to move closer, Florida (1-1, 1-0 SEC) went for it all, and the move paid off.
After struggling in Florida’s season-opening loss to Michigan and having last week’s game against Northern Colorado cancelled as a result of Hurricane Irma, Franks had his chance at redemption Saturday afternoon in The Swamp. The redshirt freshman completed 18 of his 28 pass attempts, throwing for 212 yards and two touchdowns with one interception.
That interception, a deflected pass caught by Tennessee (2-1, 0-1) defensive back Rashaan Gaulden with 3:57 remaining in the game, gave the Volunteers a chance to either tie the game or take the lead. Tennessee settled for an Aaron Medley field goal with 50 seconds remaining to tie the game at 20, and after Florida gained a total of 12 yards on its first three plays it appeared that overtime was looming.
Franks and Cleveland had other ideas, with the wide receiver getting behind the Tennessee secondary to make the game-winning catch.
Just as Franks had his struggles on the day, so did Tennessee quarterback Justin Dormady, who completed 21 of his 39 passes for 259 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions. Running back John Kelly was the offensive weapon who got Tennessee back into the game, as he rushed for 141 yards and one touchdown on 19 carries while also catching a team-high six passes for 96 yards.