Photo credit: UAA Communications
The annual rivalry contest between Florida and Tennessee hasn’t had the national or SEC implications that it once did, but there have been some entertaining contests in recent years.
That included one that took place on this day five years ago. On the game’s final snap, Feleipe Franks connected with Tyrie Cleveland for a 63-yard touchdown to lift the Gators to a thrilling 26-20 victory in Gainesville.
Setting the Stage
Both teams were ranked in the top 25 as they arrived at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Sept. 16, 2017. Florida was ranked No. 24 after a season-opening loss to Michigan in Dallas.
Ranked 23rd, Tennessee was 2-0 after wins over Georgia Tech and Indiana State. The year prior, Tennessee rallied from 21 points down to top Florida in Knoxville and snap an 11-game losing streak to the Gators, 38-28.
Florida’s Prayers Are Answered
For three quarters, the teams combined for just three field goals. The final period would consist of five scores.
Twice, Florida led by 10 in the quarter. Up 6-3 after three, C.J. Henderson’s interception return for a touchdown gave the Gators a 13-3 lead.
After John Kelly’s 34-yard touchdown run cut the lead to three, Franks found Brandon Powell for a 5-yard score. It took Tennessee just 30 seconds to answer. Quinten Dormady connected with Ethan Wolf for a 28-yard Tennessee touchdown to make it a 20-17 lead. After a stop, Aaron Medley’s 27-yard field goal with 50 seconds left drew the Volunteers even.
With Florida at its own 37-yard-line and just nine seconds left, overtime seemed inevitable.
Needing roughly 30 yards to get into field goal range, Franks was flushed to his right. With no choice but to heave one for the end zone, Franks let it fly.
With a pair of Volunteers in the area, the throw landed in the arms of a streaking Cleveland in the end zone. No time remained as Florida had pulled off one for the ages.
Box score and recap:
Watch final play:
Tennessee held the advantage in yards, first downs and time of possession. In the end, however, none of that mattered. It was Florida’s seventh straight win over Tennessee in Gainesville.
The thrilling victory at the time looked as though it may have a huge bearing on the SEC East race. That, however, would not be the case.
Florida and Tennessee would each finish with just four wins. The Gators went just 4-7 while the Volunteers went 4-8 and winless in SEC play for the first time ever.
With the teams set to square off in a little more than a week, Florida has won 16 of the last 17 over the Volunteers. Perhaps none of those victories were crazier than the one that took place on this day five years ago.
Mike Ferguson is the managing editor for Fifth Quarter. Be sure to follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeWFerguson. Follow all of Mike’s work by liking his Facebook page.