Fantastic finish: Franks to Cleveland stuns Volunteers, 26-20

Florida sophomore receiver Tyrie Cleveland catches a 63-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Feleipe Franks in the end zone on the game's last play Saturday to beat Tennessee at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. [Brad McClenny/Staff photographer]

For the first seven quarters of this season, the Florida offense’s desperate search to find the end zone had been futile. Zero touchdowns.

Well, in the irony of all ironies, when the Gators really weren’t looking for the end zone late Saturday afternoon, they miraculously found it.

It will go down in history as a Hail Mary. But that’s not what it actually was. That was not the intent.

In a game that was tied 20-20 and appeared headed for overtime, UF quarterback Feleipe Franks broke the huddle with only nine seconds remaining looking for 30 yards — 30 precious yards that would put Eddy Pineiro within range for a possible game-winning field goal.

“What was that range? You were about to find out,” UF coach Jim McElwain said.

But as Franks rolled right and out of the pocket, he glimpsed to his left and saw sophomore wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland racing behind the Tennessee secondary. Franks planted his foot and launched a perfect strike to Cleveland, who cradled the ball in his arms as he fell about five yards into the end zone.

In one of the greatest game-ending plays in Florida football history, the 63-yard TD pass from Franks to Cleveland with no time left on the clock gave the Gators a stunning 26-20 victory over the Vols in the SEC opener for both teams before 87,736 mostly insane fans in The Swamp.

The sudden game winner was followed by a big celebration on the field by the Gators, who stormed off the bench after Cleveland got up with the ball — and the victory — in his hands.

“I think everybody found out (Franks) can throw the ball a long ways in the air,” McElwain said. “I just enjoyed watching the guys (celebrate). I just enjoyed seeing their excitement. I know how hard they have worked and what they’ve put into it. For me, it was just seeing the people and the organization enjoying the moment.

“I wouldn’t say (it was great) for the program. 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. That’s what it’s great for.”

On the last play, the Gators were just looking for a field goal that would win the game. As Franks ran out of the pocket to his right, he saw some open field and thought about tucking it and running. But he quickly shifted gears when he saw Cleveland breaking free behind UT cornerback Micah Abernathy on a chase post pattern down the left-center of the field.

“I was actually thinking about running it,” Franks said. “It was kind of like an-in-the-moment thing. I set my feet and put it up for him.”

And Cleveland came down with it.

“I saw the corner press and I just ran fast,” Cleveland said. “I wanted that ball and I got it.”

Franks, who threw the strike, still seemed stunned by the unlikely ending to Saturday’s game.

“It’s going to be that little moment (when it sinks in),” Franks said. “It’s kind of hard to take it all in right now. It’s going to sink in at one point and I’m going to sit back and realize what just happened.

“Growing up, as a kid you always think about plays like that happening in your life. When you come out here and it actually happens, it’s kind of indescribable. There are no other words I can put into what just happened.”

Cleveland said he and Franks usually spend time after practice working on deep passes. The play that was called in the final seconds was one the Gators practice on every Friday during their walk through. It’s the same play that scored the winning touchdown against the Vols two years ago on a Will Grier-to-Antonio Callaway TD.

“It paid off,” Cleveland said. “Growing up, I always dreamed of making that game-winning touchdown. To make it come true is indescribable. I really can’t describe it right now. I’m trying to soak it all in.”

Before the amazing finish, it appeared the Gators were heading into overtime after Tennessee (2-1, 0-1 SEC) rallied from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter to tie the game 20-20 on 28-yard touchdown pass from Quinten Dormady to tight end Ethan Wolf and a 27-yard field goal by Aaron Medley with only 50 seconds remaining.

The Gators (1-1, 1-0) were in a position to lose the game in regulation following a Franks interception, but the worn-out defense forced three consecutive incompletions after the Vols had a first-and-goal on the 9-yard line.

Earlier in the fourth quarter, the Gators ended their offensive TD drought with a 5-yard scoring pass from Franks to Brandon Powell that put the Gators up 20-10. Earlier in the quarter, true freshman cornerback C.J. Henderson returned an interception 16 yards for a touchdown, his second pick-six in as many games.

In the end, most of all that stuff that happened earlier in the fourth quarter was forgotten with that one remarkable touchdown strike with no time left on the clock.

“I was getting ready for the overtime and then we saw the scramble, so I looked up at the video screen,” sophomore linebacker David Reese said. “I could see the ball out of the corner of my eye. I stood up and the next thing you know, Tyrie comes down with the football and we end up winning the game.”

For the Vols, it was another crushing loss to the Gators in The Swamp. The one two years ago was painful. This one was off the charts.


1. In game that appeared headed for overtime, Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks rolled right out of the pocket and found Tyrie Cleveland open behind the Tennessee secondary for a 63-yard TD on the game’s final play.

2. Franks, who threw his first career touchdown pass earlier in the fourth quarter to Brandon Powell, finished the game with 18 completions in 28 attempts for 212 yards.

3. A weary Florida defense weathered a second-half onslaught from UT tailback John Kelly, who finished the game with 141 yards rushing and a touchdown and six receptions for 96 yards.

Robbie Andreu

“Any time you lose a tough game like this, you’re going to be mad,” senior defensive tackle Kendal Vickers said. “This just shows the character of our team. Everybody is pretty upset about the loss and they should be. We just can’t let it carry on to next week. And we won’t let that happen.”

Up next

Who: No. 20 Florida (1-1, 1-0 SEC) vs. Kentucky (3-0, 1-0)

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: Commonwealth Stadium, Lexington, Ky.

TV: SEC Network

Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850


  1. No one appears to be listening. However, it is obvious that the Gator football offensive program is in a state of neutrality. The BEST we can do under current OC Nussmeier is go nowhere. The program must replace him with a forward thinking, aggressive and creative OC. If we don’t…..we are at a level of mediocrity that will be our best effort. How sad! He is being paid too much money to be mediocre. Let’s move forward with an exciting OC…..not Nussmeier!

    • They are leading the offense, but the fact of the matter is the defense has a lot to improve on as well. I’ve never seen so many missed tackles, especially in the backfield. These guys just need to spend an entire week working on wrapping up. They’re too concerned with trying to make a big hit and the opposing players are just bouncing off them, and when they do wrap up they’re still allowing an extra 2-3 yards after contact.

        • Kelly had 80 yards with 12 mins left in the 3rd qtr, so no he didn’t start racking up all his yards till late in the 3rd. I know what you’re saying about them getting gassed later in the game and I’m not arguing with you about that, but the defense wasn’t wrapping up and guys were bouncing off their tackles long before that. Fortunately they held up when it mattered most keeping the Vols out of the end zone, but that’s going to come back and bite them against better teams. It certainly did against Michigan. The fact of the matter is in 2 games they’ve given up 398 rushing yards. That’s not normal Gator defense even with bad offenses.

  2. Yes we won. So what. The team was lucky to win against a very poor Tennessee team.

    The Defense can’t tackle. With the exception of a few plays, including the last play of the game, the Offense can’t move the ball. The Offense can’t score. The play calling is terrible. You can’t run the ball on 1st and 2nd down every play and throw only on 3rd down. Defenses will sell out against the run. Which is exactly what happened in both games. It makes it very hard to run the ball and get any type of Offensive production. On top of that when the the Offense does make a play they can’t seem to hold on to the ball. Franks throws a nice deep ball. Let him throw it deep on 1st and 2nd down.

    • Exactly Joel. Yet those who live in the fantasy world of Orange and Blue football will see this as a great victory. But what it really was was a gift win on a fluke play. We were pushed around and run through by a bad UT team. Against a defense that was run over by Georgia Tech we could do little. Our running backs need to learn how to hold on to the football. Defense can’t tackle. And now it is apparent that coaching staff knows nothing about clock management. I like Mac as he seems like a nice guy. But nice guys don’t win football games football coaches do. I am now wondering if Mac is a football coach or just a good Ron White impersonator.

    • Why so serious negative people? Newsflash – we won. If you’re hostile to the coaches (while saying you love the players, which is a joke) after a win, when will you be satisfied? Never. Only when the fans run our coach off and we are staring at the possibility of a National disgrace by being turned-down by top coaching picks? We are not a desirable job to coaches with a proven record. Look at what happened to LSU last year before having to settle.
      True, Coach Mac will probably win us a natty, but he can find some success and get the program “un-broken” by upgrading facilities and establishing protocols that make this program more desirable to A-list coaches. Right now, the revolving coach’s chair, the OC hot-seat, lack of facilities and fan-base makes the UF job less than ideal. Like it or not, we need Mac to find some success and get t he chairs in line for the next coach that will take over for him.

  3. I am not a “I told you so” guy, but I told all of you prophets of doom that one game doesn’t a season make, I also told you that we would beat the Vols. It was not pretty, but the guys gave a good account of themselves (Like I knew they would) and won the game. We have a good team, and I hope that our offensive coach will open up the game and let this guys play, which I know they can, if the offense awakens and with our defense, we are going to be a force to be reckoned!!. GO GATORS!!!!!!

  4. A victory against ANY S.E.C. SCHOOL should be celebrated for U.F.! The ”always-negative” Gator fans (that call the talk shows and comment here) should go root for Clemson or Alabama.
    And then when U.F. plays like the Spurrier days of the 90’s, we’ll call you! The miracle touchdown (2nd for Mac’s Gators against U.T in ”The Swamp”) is just what U.F. needed to build for the future. Some here will never -ever- be satisfied, (must be crappy to be their significant other, too). As I am so proud to be a FLORIDA GATOR tonight! U.T. fought hard, but Florida fought back harder. It was only the Gators 2nd game of the year, and a weird start to this season (a trip to Dallas to play a top 10 Michigan team, and then lose your ”scrimmage game” -Northern Colorado). So U.F. could have easily blamed the ”hurricane” and not show any ”fight” today, but they didn’t! And I am proud of that they ”responded to all this adversity” with a big fat ‘W’! And it’s a ‘W’ that Tennessee does NOT have tonight! CHOMP ON GATORS!

      • Saying that you support the players, while systematically ripping apart the coaches is asinine. Player MUST believe in their coaches. Players MUST have buy-in to their overall picture for the team to be successful. When they see comments and tweets like these, probably from people who have never played a team sport, it erodes that confidence and makes the coach’s job all the more tougher.

        So saying in affect ” I love the kids, it’s just the people to whom they look to and place heir faith in, that I hate.” Saying critical things, expecting to get a better team, or expecting the team to fire the coach because your feelings are hurt because we didn’t blow them out, you’re wrong on both counts. Wise up.

        • As a fan, you can love the team but not appreciate the coaching. No one said they hate the coaches, just that their respective level of effectiveness is lacking. I see the talent on the field, but I don’t see it in the coaching staff, simple as that.
          And yes, I have played organized sports.

  5. Great victory, but so many mistakes. Two very costly fumbles, lack of blocking especially picking up the blitz, and of course when you leave your defense on the field that long you get tackling issues. Plenty of room for improvement, much needed.

  6. Mac really has a horseshoe up his a$$. Completely botched the clock management at the end but once again we pulled it out. Hope this will help Frank’s confidence… Coaching being consistently bad aside these kids need to hang on to the football. 20-3 if Davis doesn’t fumble then we front-run to an easy victory…. Why are our receivers never open even against bad defenses.

  7. So that was fun! And I’ll take it especially as opposed to the opposite which would have been our worse start since I was a senior in high school (1971). However, it’s obvious we have miles to go to be a decent team.

    220 yards of offense against the 97th rated defense in the country (subtracting the two big plays – the long run/fumble and long pass) is quite simply unacceptable and the defense for the second game this year is simply worn out in the fourth quarter.

    Figure it out Mac and Nuss – we need a much better game plan against a 3-0 Kentucky team on the road.

  8. I agree with the criticism of the OC up until yesterday. Now, go back and track the play calls yesterday. I challenge any of you to call a better game. It’s truly time to shut up about the plays and just simply watch the offensive line, especially the right side. They are horrible. Not division 1 football players. Throw in the freaking backs who apparently have no idea how to pick up a blitz and you end up with a qb who trying to throw the 15 yard or deeper pass and cannot because the lack of protection. Honestly, go back and track the plays. What was called and then, sadly, how it was executed. Just stop with the “Our OC sucks” BS without holding the players accountable.

    • The OC does suck, look at the statistics since he came on board, bottom of all the schools in football. If their not division 1 football players, who recruited them? Couple things i would do to call better game, stretch the defense by throwing deep, keeps all ten guys from being in box, run outside to keep them honest, hand off to receiver in motion once in a while, it always works for good yardage

  9. So glad to see some positive comments on this site. These Kids have been through Hell the last 10 days. I am proud of the team and coaches they kept it together and fought hard. Was very touched when Coach Mac was close to tears(post game) he said he Loves these guys and I believe him.
    I hope True Gators will rally around the team and staff.