Feleipe Franks said his first thought when he rolled out of the pocket was to run. In a split second, he had to decide whether there was enough time to get out of bounds and still have a monster field goal try.
Then, he saw him.
“Out of the corner of my eye,” said the redshirt freshman quarterback.
There, running like a blur, was Tyrie Cleveland.
Just like practice.
In the huddle, when Franks had barked out the same play Will Grier did two years ago against Tennessee from the same exact yard line, Cleveland looked at Franks.
“Give me a chance,” he said.
Still, it wasn’t the plan. The plan was to run “Train Right Open Big Ben In” and hope for something, anything that would either set up Eddy Pineiro’s big leg or create another miracle.
Cleveland had simply run past defensive back Micah Abernathy because, well, he can. The safety had rolled up trying to take away a mid-range completion and Franks had purchased some time when he rolled out.
So what the heck?
Let it fly.
The ball sailed through the air and all eyes shifted down the field and saw the unbelievable.
Cleveland was behind the defense.
“I was ready to run down and get ready for a field goal,” said offensive tackle Martez Ivey. “But I saw (Franks) throw it and I thought, ‘This isn’t going to be a field goal,’ ”
Instead, it was yet another special moment for Florida football and another kick to the pancreas for Tennessee.
Cleveland grabbed the perfectly thrown ball as he fell to the ground and just like that a season that was already on life support in its third week received defibrillator paddles to the chest.
“I was just shocked that it all happened,” Cleveland said.
Join the club. Everyone there, everyone watching at home, everyone with an even casual interest in a game that was for the most part unwatchable will never forget the fourth quarter and the unforgettable final play.
Two years ago, Florida had laid a Lindsay Scott-like play on the Vols. On a sticky Saturday, they brought back the old “Doug Flutie.”
Cleveland, such a young pup, told the media he had never heard of Flutie. But he promised to “check him out.” (Has he never seen a Dr. Pepper commercial?)
Jim McElwain remembers it. He remembers being in the house they named the “Cow Palace” at Eastern Washington when Flutie’s Hail Mary fell into the arms of Gerald Phelan.
“I’ve got some burned images in my mind that I will carry for the rest of my life,” he said.
One thing about the Florida head coach — his teams sure are good at creating indelible moments.
For a night anyway, all of the problems of a game that looked like it was slipping away could be forgotten and forgiven. A throaty Gator Nation in desperate need of having something to cheer about had more to cheer about than it could have ever imagined.
A defense that had played so well was running on fumes and Gummy Bears in the fourth quarter and nobody could have liked Florida’s chances in overtime. The Gators had so many freshmen playing on defense it was surprising the officials didn’t ask for their IDs before they let them check in.
And it finally looked like the lack of offense coupled with weary legs caught up with Florida when Tennessee had first-and-goal at the nine with a minute to play.
Fortunately, Tennessee is still Tennessee.
Florida, at this point in the game, could not tackle Vols running back John Kelly. So, of course, Tennessee threw it three times (Kelly did drop a sure touchdown) before tying the game with a field goal.
This was the same offense that did not run the ball on first-and-goal at the half-yard line and eventually threw a pick, one of three the Gators had in the game.
But Butch Jones is Tennessee’s problem. On Saturday night, all of the problems of an inconsistent offense and what happened in Arlington, Texas, were drowned out in a roar that was still echoing deep into the night.
In a city where the fallen trees and limbs are still piled up like snow plowed to the curbs, a memory of a lifetime fell from the sky.
“I knew I had it,” Cleveland said. “I made it my business to come down with it.”
Business as usual when it comes to Florida-Tennessee.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at email@example.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.