Gators' Swamp survival
Published: Saturday, November 10, 2012 at 4:15 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, November 10, 2012 at 7:32 p.m.
During this magical season, the No. 7 Florida Gators have come up with some very creative ways to win football games. This has to be the most creative, and certainly the craziest.
1. Loucheiz Purifoy blocked a punt that linebacker Jelani Jenkins caught and returned 36 yards for a touchdown with two seconds to play to give the Gators perhaps their most improbable victory of the season.
2. In relief of injured starting quarterback Jeff Driskel, Jacoby Brissett threw a three-yard TD pass to Quinton Dunbar to tie the game at 20 with only 1:42 remaining.
3. With those two late touchdowns, the Gators move to 9-1 on the season and 6-0 in The Swamp.
-- Robbie Andreu
The Gators went to their Houdini playbook to pull this one out.
Call it “The Great Swamp Escape,” starring Loucheiz Purifoy, Jelani Jenkins, Jacoby Brissett and a cast of thousands who helped turn Florida Field into an insane asylum in the game's frantic, fabulous, almost unbelievable final few minutes.
In a game that appeared hopelessly lost at times in the fourth quarter, the Gators avoided one of the greatest upsets in school history when Purifoy blocked a punt and Jenkins caught it and returned it 36 yards for the winning touchdown with only two seconds left to give Florida (9-1) an improbable 27-20 victory over 27-point underdog Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday.
“We certainly make it interesting,” UF coach Will Muschamp said. “This is a football team that's finding ways to win games. We certainly shot ourselves in the foot enough in the game to put it in that situation.
“But we managed the game very well late as far as field position and time was concerned and with what we wanted to do.”
Muschamp was asked if he'd ever been part of a victory that was achieved on a blocked punt for a touchdown with only two seconds left.
“No, this is the first, I believe,” he said. “We certainly found a way to get this one done, in a very unusual style.”
Trailing 20-13 late in the fourth quarter, the Gators turned a possible upset into an amazing victory with two touchdowns in the game's final 1:42 —- and they did it with starting quarterback Jeff Driskel out of the game with a sprained ankle that sidelined him in the third quarter.
The Gators tied the game 20-all with a three-yard TD pass from Brissett to wide receiver Quinton Dunbar with only 1:42 remaining. The touchdown was set up on the play before with a 39-yard strike down the middle of the field from Brissett to tight end Jordan Reed.
“I just wanted to make sure I didn't miss (Reed),” Brissett said. “I feel like I underthrew him and it slowed him down. He made a heck of a play.
“(The touchdown) was a great play by Q. We work on scramble moves every day. To transfer it from the practice field to game day on the field, it was great to see.”
With the game tied at 20 and the Ragin' Cajuns (5-4) having only one timeout left, UL coach Mark Hudspeth was content to take the game into overtime. But after a third consecutive run failed to get a first down, Muschamp called a timeout with 13 seconds to play and the decision was made to try and block the punt.
That's just what Purifoy did, streaking from the outside and reaching out his right hand just in time to block Brett Baer's punt. The ball fluttered to left side of the field, where Jenkins was standing all alone at the 36. He caught the ball and raced into the end zone for the winning touchdown with two seconds left on the clock.
“I just kind of stuck (my hand) out. I didn't want to swing it because I might miss,” said Purifoy, a true sophomore cornerback. “I stuck my hand out and got a little bit of the ball.
“That's a once-in-a-lifetime feeling. It's a great feeling.”
Jenkins did not hesitate once the ball fell into his arms.
“They executed the block perfectly,” he said. “I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. I was surprised I happened to be there, but it came right to me and I just tried to run as fast as I could.
“We're a hard-fighting team and we'll never give up. That's one thing I definitely say about us.”
With Driskel out and the Gators struggling on offense and trailing 20-13 late in the fourth quarter, the Ragin' Cajuns seemed primed to pull off the biggest victory in school history.
Instead, they ended up on the wrong end of a stunning finish in the closing seconds.
“I felt like we had a legitimate chance to win the game when we were up, and then they got the score (to tie),” Hudspeth said. “I thought we were in good enough position to put the game into overtime, then who knows what happens when you get into overtime.
“The thing we were worried about is they set up a nice return (on the previous punt). We tried to pick up (the rushers) on the outside. We just didn't execute it right this time. They got one when it counted, so you have to give them credit.”
The late touchdown and then the blocked punt for the touchdown allowed the Gators to pull off one of the greatest escapes in school history.
If anyone can do something like that, this seems to be the team.
“Mark Hudspeth at the end of the game said that great teams find ways to win a game,” Muschamp said. “He said, ‘You've got a great football team.'
“I don't know if I'd stretch it that far, but we've got a bunch of guys who are playing together and playing for each other and they have a strong belief in one another, a strong belief in what we're doing and where we're headed. The future is bright.
“I told the guys how proud I am to be their head coach.”
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