Kicker Treat: Henry, Gators get sweet redemption
Published: Saturday, October 30, 2010 at 10:48 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, October 30, 2010 at 10:48 p.m.
JACKSONVILLE — Two weeks ago, Chas Henry had his head down after missing both of his field-goal attempts in a three-point loss to Mississippi State.
Three things to know
1. Chas Henry, who missed two field-goal attempts in the loss to Mississippi State two weeks ago, atoned in a big way, nailing a 37-yard field goal attempt in overtime to give the Gators a victory in what was a survival game for both teams.
2. Free safety Will Hill nearly won the game moments before Henry's kick when he intercepted an Aaron Murray pass and returned it 89 yards to the Georgia 4-yard line. Hill stepped out of bounds, but his pick skunked Georgia on its possession and gave the Gators a chance for the win on their first possession in OT.
3. The Gators rotated quarterbacks John Brantley and Trey Burton and unveiled a new no-huddle, hurry-up offense that kept the Georgia defense off balance for much of the game. The offense produced 34 points and 450 total yards.
Saturday, the Florida punter-turned-kicker had his head down in overtime for a different reason. This time, almost like a golfer, it was to make sure he made a solid and true strike of the ball.
"Whenever I hit it, I knew it was going through," said the senior from Dallas, Ga. "When I hit it, it felt good, but the first one (from 42 yards earlier in the game) that I missed felt good, too.
"So, I kept my head down like (special teams) coach (D.J.) Durkin and I talked about."
When Henry finally did look up, he saw his 37-yard field goal sailing smack between the goalposts at EverBank Field to give the Gators a heart-stopping 34-31 overtime victory against Georgia on Saturday before 84,444 in a game the Gators absolutely had to have to stay alive in the SEC East race.
"It was the best feeling I've ever had," Henry said. "The main thing that went through my mind (before the kick) was how I let my team down two weeks ago against Mississippi State. That was one of the hardest things I've had to go through.
"I got so much support through the coaches, my family and friends, and my brothers in the locker room. The internal family we have (on this team) is as strong as you can get. I let them down one time. I was never going to let it happen again. It felt great. Unbelievable."
Henry's kick produced a happy ending for the Gators in one of the most memorable Florida-Georgia games in the 88th meeting in the rivalry.
It produced quite an orange-and-blue celebration on the field. Henry earned a ride on his teammates shoulders. The players, coaches and fans turned it into kind of a championship moment. At least it felt like one coming off three consecutive losses.
"It felt great," senior center Mike Pouncey said. "I've been around here a long time and that was one of the best feelings of my life."
A jubilant Urban Meyer went to his knees as Henry's winning kick sailed between he uprights. But he didn't even remember doing it.
"It was Chas Henry hitting a damn field goal. Think about that for a minute," Meyer said. "It's not easy. Relief, whatever. I did not realize I did that. It was a good moment."
It was a moment that keeps the Gators (5-3 overall and 3-3 in the SEC) in control of their destiny in the division race. If they defeat Vanderbilt and South Carolina in the next two weeks, the Gators will be heading back to Atlanta and the conference championship game.
"This is the biggest win I've coached in in a very long time," Meyer said. "From demeanor, to recruiting. That's a very emotional locker room now. These guys have been to hell and back these last three weeks. We got our brains kicked in the last three weeks and need to get this ship right."
The Gators are alive again.
For the Bulldogs (4-5, 3-4), it was a crushing loss — and likely elimination in the SEC race.
"You can't question anybody's effort, you can't question anybody's heart or their nature," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "They did all those things. We just didn't get the job done in overtime, obviously, and they did. So, credit to them."
In a game that went back and forth in the second half, the Bulldogs tied the game 31 with a 4:36 on a 15-yard TD pass from quarterback Aaron Murray to receiver A.J. Green to send the game to overtime.
The Gators won the coin toss and elected to play defense first — a move that nearly won the game.
On a third-down play, a Murray pass was tipped by linebacker Jelani Jenkins and intercepted by UF free safety Will Hill, who then weaved his way down the left sideline and appeared to score, which would have ended the game. But Hill stepped out of bounds at the 4-yard line.
"I thought I scored," Hill said.
Henry was hoping he had.
"That would have taken the pressure off of me and everyone else," Henry said. "It would have been game over."
But the game would play on instead.
On UF's offensive possession, three plays netted only five yards, leaving the Gators with a fourth-and-5 from the 20 — and setting up Henry for his shot at redemption.
Henry, one of the nation's premier punters, was called on to fill the field-goal kicking role of Caleb Sturgis four games ago after Sturgis injured his back lifting weights. Henry was 2-of-5 heading into Saturday's game, then missed his first try in the first half.
But from 37 yards out, he was comfortably within his range. And he confidently stroked it through.
"It meant a lot to this team," Pouncey said. "We were behind Chas 100 percent even when he missed them. He's part of our team. He's one of our brothers. He played one of his best games and made the winning field goal."
It was a great day, a great moment for Henry, and it ended a positive performance for the Gators, who came into the game offensively challenged and riding a three-game losing streak.
During the open date, the coaches changed the offense, going to a no-huddle, hurry-up tempo and alternating quarterbacks John Brantley and Trey Burton.
The result was 450 yards of total offense and 34 points.
"I thought (offensive coordinator) Steve Addazio did a heck of a job with the in and out (rotating the quarterbacks)," Meyer said. "We had 450 total yards of offense. We have to get this thing going and we're still not done. Obviously, we've still got a lot of football left to play. ... We're going to continue to do that (run the up-tempo offense) because we need an edge. We're going to go even harder on that."