Tampa Bay Sports Day

Asleep at the Wheel; Hail Mary Dooms Vols at Florida, 26-20

Running back Ty Chandler #3 of the Tennessee Volunteers during the game between the Florida Gators and the Tennessee Volunteers at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, FL. Photo By Austin Perryman/Tennessee Athletics

GAINESVILLE, Fla. –– No. 23 Tennessee fought back from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter to tie the game, but No. 24/25  Florida’s Hail Mary pass gave the Gators a 26-20 win on Saturday at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

“We’ve been through some things and you know what, they just keep going. It obviously was not pretty but sometimes as you go through this business, it’s about finding a way to win, and our guys figured out a way to win.” said Florida coach Jim McElwain.

Tennessee (2-1, 0-1 SEC) entered the second half trailing, 6-3, and fell behind by as much as 10 points before tying the game up with less than a minute to play. Florida’s final offensive drive resulted in a game-winning Hail Mary for the Gators.

Linebacker QuartÕe Sapp #14 of the Tennessee Volunteers. Photo By Kyle Zedaker/Tennessee Athletics

Vols QB Quinten Dormady completed 21-of-39 passes for 259 yards and three interceptions while John Kelly rushed for 141 yards and caught six passes for 96 yards. Kelly averaged 7.4 yards per carry and 16 yards per reception.

Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks finished 18-of-28 for 212 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.

“The offensive line did a great job giving me protection, and Tyrie (Cleveland) did a great job getting to his landmark and his spot and made a ballhawk play. We were blessed to come out with a win and it’s great for our players,” Franks said of the winning TD.

UF’s Kadarius Toney recorded a career-high 40 yards on four receptions. The Gators’ Malik Davis rushed for a career-high 94 yards on four carries.

Wide receiver Josh Palmer #5 of the Tennessee Volunteer. Photo By Austin Perryman/Tennessee Athletics

Florida wasted no time getting on the scoreboard as the Gators went 65 yards down the field in 15 plays, but were held to a 27-yard field goal by Tennessee’s defense.

The SEC rivals exchanged punts the remainder of the first quarter and for the first two drives of the second before Florida settled for another field goal to move ahead, 6-0.

On the ensuing possession, the Vols answered with a 51-yard field goal by freshman Brent Cimaglia to pull within three points and close out the first half. It marked Cimaglia’s first career field goal and the longest by a Tennessee kicker since Michael Palardy made a 51-yarder at Missouri in 2013.

Sophomore defensive back Nigel Warrior then forced a fumble that was recovered by Darrell Taylor on Florida’s first drive of the second half. Tennessee went 43 yards on 12 plays, including a 22-yard pass from Dormady to Callaway, but an interception at the one-yard line ended the Vols’ possession.

The Tennessee Volunteers during the game between the Florida Gators and theVolunteers. Photo By Kyle Zedaker/Tennessee Athletics

Following the turnover, UT’s defense forced a three-and-out punt which Callaway returned for 39 yards to the UF-36. Tennessee then attempted its second 51-yard field of the night, but Cimaglia missed wide right.

The Gators scored the first touchdown of the game in the fourth quarter on a pick-six by CJ Henderson, furthering their advantage to 13-3.

Justin Martin then forced a fumble at the goal line that resulted in a touchback and kick started Tennessee’s scoring drive. Dormady directed a five-play, 80-yard possession that ended with a 34-yard touchdown run by John Kelly. After an extra point, the Vols cut Florida’s lead to 13-10.

With 5:13 left in the game, UF’s Franks threw a five-yard pass for a touchdown, giving the Gator’s a 20-10 edge.

Running back John Kelly #4 of the Tennessee Volunteers during the game between the Florida Gators and Tennessee. Photo By Austin Perryman/Tennessee Athletics

On the next drive, Dormady found Kelly for a 52-yard pass before connecting with Ethan Wolf for a 28-yard touchdown. Aaron Medley’s PAT pulled the Vols within three, 20-17.

Medley then made a 27-yard field goal to tie the game up, 20-20, with less than a minute to play.

As time expired, Florida’s Franks hurled a 63-yard, Hail Mary pass to Tyrie Cleveland for a touchdown, sealing the Gators’ 26-20 victory.

“I like this football team. I like these guys in our locker room. With what they’ve been through, it was great to see the joy on their face,” McElwain said.

UF’s Eddy Pineiro was a perfect two-for-two on field goals of 27 and 41 yards. Cleveland recorded a 46-yard kickoff return in the fourth quarter to put the Gators at Tennessee’s 44-yard line.

D-NOTES: David Reese, Duke Dawson and C.J. Henderson accounted for UF’s third consecutive multi-interception game. The trio gave the Gators their 31st multi-interception game against an FBS team since 2010, which is the most in the SEC during that span. Reese recorded his first career interception during the first quarter at Florida’s 34-yard line. First interception by a Gator linebacker since Daniel McMillian recorded one against Iowa in the Outback Bowl. Dawson recorded the fourth interception of his career in the third quarter, picking off Tennessee’s Dormady at UF’s 1-yard line in a 3rd-and-goal situation.

NUMBERS GAME: C.J. Henderson has recorded a pick-six in back-to-back games, the first Gator player to do so since 1996. Jabari Zuniga recorded a career-high with six tackles. Marco Wilson set a new career-high with seven tackles. Henderson also set a new career-high with five tackles.