How else would you describe Florida’s 28-27 win over the Tennessee Vols Saturday at The Swamp?
Florida rallied from a two-touchdown deficit in the fourth quarter and survived a 55-yard field goal attempt on the last play of the game that had the distance but missed right by perhaps two feet to stay perfect at 4-0 (2-0 SEC) and extend the Gators’ winning streak over Tennessee to 11 years.
The miracle was the 63-yard touchdown pass from Will Grier to Antonio Callaway with 1:26 to go in the game. Facing fourth-and-13 at the UF 37, Grier found Callaway open at the Tennessee 45 where he pivoted to avoid three tacklers. At the 40 he picked up a devastating block by Brandon Powell that freed him to run unscathed down the sideline to score the game-tying touchdown. Freshman Jorge Powell, kicking because Austin Hardin pulled a hamstring, provided the margin of victory when he split the uprights for the game-winning extra point.
Tennessee still had plenty of time to move into field goal position but when Joshua Dobbs fumbled the ball forward at the UF 36 the Vols braintrust lost track of the clock and precious seconds ran off. A Dobbs-to-Ethan Wolf pass was good for four yards, but when Dobbs tried to spike the ball to stop the clock, the Vols were called for an illegal substitution. Tennessee had to take a time out with three seconds remaining to avoid a clock runoff that would have ended the game, but the 5-yard loss might have been the difference in the game.
Tennessee brought on Aaron Medley, who had kicked field goals of 34 and 37 yards earlier, to try a 55-yarder, but just before the ball was snapped, McElwain called time out to freeze him. Medley got a kick off as the whistle blew but it was wide right by several yards even though he had the distance. The second kick also had the distance and but instead of hooking the ball went straight and missed by a couple of feet, which set off a wild celebration by the Gators.
“I don’t know if we deserved to win it, but there’s something special about these Gators,” Florida coach Jim McElwain said on the field post game.
A win seemed like an impossibility when Jalen Hurd blew through the Florida line for a 10-yard touchdown with 10:19 left in the game that increased the Vols lead to 26-14. Instead of going for a 2-point conversion that would have given UT a 14-point lead, head coach Butch Jones sent in Medley to kick the extra point that made it a 27-13 lead.
Then came a drive almost as improbable as the one that gave UF the game-winning touchdown. Florida needed 17 plays to go 86 yards. Along the way, the Gators converted one third down and two fourth downs. Although they ate up 6:10 of clock, the Gators found the end zone when Grief and Brandon Powell connected for a 5-yard score with 4:09 left to play.
Trailing 27-21, Florida’s defense, mashed and bloodied for 254 rushing yards by the Vols, came up with a 3-and-out when a host of Gators stopped Dobbs for a 4-yard loss. Florida took over at its own 41 when Callaway returned Trevor Daniel’s 56-yard punt 12 yards. Three plays later, Grier and Callaway connected for the miracle touchdown to close out a perfect September.
Grier, who threw for 283 yards, was 11-18 for 141 yards and two touchdowns in the final 10 minutes of the game. Callaway caught five passes for 112 yards while Kelvin Taylor ran for 102 yards and two touchdowns.
Dobbs, who was 12-19 throwing the ball for 165 yards and one TD, ran for 136 yards.
Florida will face Ole Miss in The Swamp next week while Tennessee (2-2, 0-1 SEC) will play host to Arkansas.
FLORIDA 7, TENNESSEE 0; 10:23
On their second possession of the game, the Gators needed only four plays to drive 70 yards to draw first blood, a 5-yard scoring run by Taylor with 10:23 remaining in the first half. After a Grier to Jake McGee completion on first down, Taylor got the next three carries. He broke a 47-yard run, Florida’s longest rushing play of the season, to the Tennessee 8, then one play later cut inside a block on the defensive end to power into the end zone. Jorge Powell, subbing for injured Austin Hardin, drilled the extra point for a 7-0 Florida lead.
TENNESSEE 7, FLORIDA 7; 5:02
Tennessee caught the Gators napping on their third possession of the first quarter. Following a Florida punt, the Vols took over at their own 42 and needed only one play to score. Dobbs threw a long lateral behind the line of scrimmage to former quarterback Jauan Jennings who threw back to the other side of the field to Dobbs, who had a convoy of blockers to set up a 58-yard touchdown. Medley tied the game with his extra point.
TENNESSEE 14, FLORIDA 7; 8:18
The Vols once again tricked the Gators to keep this 8-play, 84-yard scoring drive going. On fourth-and-2 at the UF 47, the Vols lined up in an I-formation with Alvin Kamara the deep back. Kamara took a handoff and two steps toward the line, then pulled up and threw a jump pass to tight end Ethan Wolf for a 23-yard gain to the UF 23. Dobbs went 17 yards on the next play, fumbling the ball forward and out of bounds to the goal line, but when UF didn’t recover it was moved back to the six. Two plays later, Hurd powered in off the right side for the touchdown and Medley added the extra point for a 14-8 lead.
TENNESSEE 17, FLORIDA 7; 3:13
The Vols drove 70 yards on their next possession, 62 of them by Dobbs, to set up a 34-yard Aaron Medley fumble that extended Tennessee’s lead to 10, 17-7. Dobbs accounted for all 70 yards on the ground and finished the half with 107 rushing yards, 58 receiving yards and 24 passing.
Florida finished the half with 202 yards of offense, 87 on the ground and 115 though the air, while the Vols got 148 on the ground and 106 through the air for 254 yards of total offense.
TENNESSEE 20, FLORIDA 7; 11:07
The Vols increased the lead to 13 with a 37-yard field goal by Medley to cap a 9-play, 56-yard drive on the first series of the second half. Key plays on the drive were a 21-yard run by Hurd on which the Gators missed three tackles and a 9-yard Dobbs-to-Kamara pass for a key third down conversion. When the drive stalled at the 19, Medley came on to kick his second field goal of the game.
FLORIDA 14, TENNESSEE 20; 5:42
Bryan Cox Jr. came up with a much-needed defensive stop when he forced and recovered a Dobbs fumble at the Tennessee 29 to give the Gators some life. Three plays later, Tennessee called time out to ice Jorge Powell, who was about to attempt his first collegiate field goal from 42 yards but McElwain used the time to devise a play for a fourth down gamble that got the Gators back into the game. Working from a 3-man bunch formation on the right side, Brandon Powell turned the UT corner around and caught a slant across the middle that was good for 21 yards to the Tennesee four. On the next play, Taylor turned a misdirection play into his second touchdown of the game to complete the 5-play drive. Jorge Powell’s extra point made it a 6-point game.
TENNESSEE 27, FLORIDA 14; 10:19
The Vols thought they put the game away with a 16-play, 70-yard drive that took 7:26 off the clock and was aided by five critical third down conversions. This was another drive when the inability to wrap people up cost the Gators dearly. The backbreaker plays were a third down conversion by Dobbs when the UF defense had him hemmed in for a loss, a 17-yard Dobbs-to-Wolf completion for a first down on a third-and-13 from the UF 27 and a 10-yard run for a TD by Hurd on third and goal from the 10. Three different Gators missed Dobbs five yards behind the line of scrimmage (UF 40) but he escaped and got the first down. The completion to Wolf came one play after a Dobbs-to-Von Pearson TD pass was called back for an ineligible receiver downfield. Hurd went straight up the gut of the Florida defense untouched for the killer TD with 10:19.
FLORIDA 21, TENNESSEE 27; 4:09
The Gators answered Tennessee’s long drive, with a dink and dunk drive of their own that covered 86 yards in 17 plays and needed two fourth down conversions to keep the drive alive. Grier completed nine passes on the drive, none more important than a 10-yarder to Jake McGee on fourth-and-7 from the UT 45 and a 16-yard crossing pattern from Brandon Powell on fourth-and-8 that moved the ball to the Tennessee 5. On second-and-goal from the 5, Grier connected again with Brandon Powell for the touchdown. Jorge Powell’s extra point brought the Gators within six.
FLORIDA 28, TENNESSEE 27; 1:26
The Vols went conservative after the UF touchdown and that allowed the Gators to get a rare three-and-out, forcing a Tennessee punt. After Antonio Callaway gave the Gators excellent field position with a 12-yard punt return, Florida faced a fourth-and-13 from the UF 37. For the third time in the fourth quarter, Grier came up with the big throw on fourth down, hitting Callaway at the Tennessee 45. Callaway spun away from tacklers and picked up a wipeout block by Brandon Powell, who took out two UT defenders as Callaway sped down the sideline untouched for the touchdown that tied the game. Jorge Powell came on to kick the extra point that provided the winning margin.