Hail Mary Touchdown Gives Gators 26-20 Win over Tennessee As Time Expires

No matter how many games you’ve watched, sometimes college football still manages to leave everyone watching breathless and shocked.

Saturday was one of those times.

Florida took down Tennessee 26-20 thanks to a 63-yard touchdown pass from Feleipe Franks to Tyrie Cleveland as time expired. It was a Hail Mary that will live on in Gator lore and nearly brought down The Swamp.

“Before the play, I looked at Feleipe and told him ‘Give me a chance,'” Cleveland said.

And give him a chance he did.

The pass was the highlight of a game in which neither team scored a touchdown until the fourth quarter. Then the fourth quarter saw five touchdowns in an action-packed finished.

The win moves the Gators to 1-1 on the season, and sees them avoid losing back-to-back games to the Vols since 2003-04. It also keeps Tennessee without a win in Gainesville since 2003. The last time they were denied, it came on Will Grier’s 4th and 14 conversion to Antonio Callaway.

That touchdown was also 63 yards.

Player Performances


Franks played well in giving Florida its first win of the season. He went 18-for-28 for 212 yards, two touchdowns, and a pick. He managed the game through the first three quarters, and didn’t allow the interception to rattle him. Instead, he drove the Florida offense on its first two touchdown drives of the season at the time when they needed it the most.

“He [Feleipe] was just very calm,” Florida head coach Jim McElwain said. “He didn’t get rattled after the interception.”

His favorite targets were Cleveland and freshman playmaker Kadarius Toney. Cleveland hauled five catches for 93 yards and that miraculous touchdown.

Toney meanwhile, had four catches for 40 yards and was the lone bright spot for a Florida offense that didn’t do much through the first 45 minutes. Toney was a player that was talked about needing more touches. He showed why with some nice jukes during the game.

Members of the Gator defense also had themselves a day. CJ Henderson scored the first touchdown of the game with a pick-six to put Florida up 13-3.

In doing so, he now has a pick-six in each of his first two games, and leads the team in touchdowns.

“DBU, all I’m going to say,” sophomore defensive back Chauncey Gardner said. “I would put those freshmen up against any wide receiver.”

David Reese and Duke Dawson also had interceptions as the Gator defense picked off Tennessee quarterback Quentin Dormady three times.

“Obviously it wasn’t pretty,” McElwain said. “Sometimes as you go through this business, it’s about figuring out a way to win, and our guys figured out a way to win.”


Dormady had an up and down game. He went 21-for 39 for 259 yards, a touchdown, and the three picks, but never really seemed like he was going to carry the Vols to victory.

If anyone, that would’ve been running back John Kelly, who went beast mode. Kelly racked up 237 total yards on 25 total touches, and scored a touchdown as he led the team in rushing and receiving.

Coming into the game, he was the only player in the SEC to lead his team in rush yards and receptions, and the Gators defense had no answer for him. Kelly wore them down, and by the fourth quarter, Florida was missing tackles left and right trying to bring them down.

In the end, though, not even Kelly’s monster performance could keep Florida from producing some magic down the stretch as they got a huge win in the SEC East race.

“What it’s great for … it’s great for these players, and it’s great for the people, the city of Gainesville and all the Florida fans,” McElwain said. “That’s what it’s great for.”

First Half

The first 30 minutes were a game of field goals, as that’s all either team managed in terms of points.

As is customary for the Florida offense, it actually looked pretty good on the first drive. Josh Hammond got three receptions as Florida made it to the red zone.

But two pre-snap penalties killed the drive. A 15-play, 65-yard opening drive that took 7:22 ended in a 27 yarder from Eddy Piniero to give the Gators the 3-0 lead.

Florida didn’t get much going after that. They got a pick from David Reese to get good field position but immediately went out afterward.

Feleipe Franks was decent (11-18, 108 yds), but not spectacular, and the Gators only other points came from another Piniero field goal, this one from 41 yards. Kadarius Toney did stand out by making a couple of nifty plays and showing off his athleticism and yard-after-the-catch abilities.

Fortunately for the Florida offense, their defense stifled the Vols offense to give Florida a 6-3 lead at the half. Tennessee kicker Brent Cimiglia missed a 47-yard field goal as time expired in the second quarter that would’ve made the game tied at halftime.

Second Half

The third quarter was much of the same as the first half. The defenses dominated, and neither team scored in the quarter, as the game seemed destined to be remembered as a show of offensive futility.

Fourth Quarter

Then the fourth quarter had all the fun.

It started early with Henderson’s pick six less than a minute into the quarter.

At the moment, it seemed like the first team to score a touchdown would hang on and win. But there was more crazy left in the game.

Tennessee drove right down the field on the ensuing possession. They made it all the way to the Florida 26, but kicker Aaron Medley missed the 44-yard kick that would’ve made it a one-possession game.

The following play, Florida nearly iced the game. Freshman running back Malik Davis went off on a 72-yard run that was initially called a touchdown and put Florida up 19-3. However, Davis fumbled just before the goal line. Upon further review, the play was called a touchback and Tennessee ball.

The Vols drove right down the field. A 5-play, 80-yard drive ended with a 34-yard Kelly touchdown rush and the game all of a sudden was 13-10. It was a 14 point swing in the timespan of just over two minutes.

The teams then traded passing touchdowns. Franks found Brandon Powell from five yards out for Florida’s first offensive touchdown of the season. Tennessee then marched right back down, as Dormady hit tight end Ethan Wolf for a 26-yard touchdown to make it 20-17.

Final Minutes

Franks proceeded to throw his first interception of the season, as the ball went off the hands of Cleveland and into the hands of Rashaan Gaulden. Tennessee was in position to take the lead with a late touchdown.

They got inside the red zone, but the Gators defense hunkered down. They forced the Vols to tie the game with a field goal instead, which Medley knocked through with 50 seconds to go.

Would the Gators play for overtime, or go for the win?

Go for the win they did, and it payed off in the most epic of circumstances. After some poor clock management left Florida with the ball at its 37 with nine seconds left, the only plays to go for were to get in field goal range, or go for the Hail Mary.

The latter one is what happened. Franks initially looked for the intermediate route, but then scrambled, bought some time, and unleashed a cannon of a pass that he said will be one of his top memories.


So to for many Gator fans and players

“I will say this: I like this football team,” McElwain said. “…it was great to see the joy on their face.”

About Jonathan Acosta

Native New Englander. Follow me on Twitter: @jonacosta_10

Check Also


Gators Basketball Set to Face Stetson

After a bounce back win from the Phil Knight Legacy Tournament against FAMU on Monday, …

Leave a Reply