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FRANKS AND CLEVELAND FORM WINNING CONNECTION FOR GATORS

FRANKS AND CLEVELAND FORM WINNING CONNECTION FOR GATORS
FRANKS AND CLEVELAND FORM WINNING CONNECTION FOR GATORS
Posted at 1:30 AM, Sep 17, 2017
and last updated 2017-09-17 01:30:00-04

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The Florida offense had not produced a touchdown in seven quarters this season going into the fourth quarter of Saturday's 26-20 victory over Tennessee.

The lack of an offensive score created plenty of fan unrest on social media with each snap that ended short of the end zone. The vibe in the huddle was not as turbulent.

"We were just waiting on our moment. And our moment was today," receiver Brandon Powell said. "We made plays, we scored points, that's how it is supposed to be."

Up 13-3 with just over 10 minutes to go, freshman running back Malik Davis broke a big run for 74 yards for the Gators' first rushing touchdown in eight games, stretching back to last October.

Nevertheless, after officials reviewed the play, they ruled that Davis fumbled the ball at the 2-yard line and the ball went through the back of the end zone for a touchback. The streak did not end, but it was a turning point for the team.

"As an O-line, it got us really excited because we busted down the field 80 yards and we were like, 'alright, let's do it again,' " junior left tackle Martez Ivey said. "That touchback did not even cross our [minds]."

Tennessee quickly moved the ball on the fatigued Florida defense and John Kelly ran in a 34-yard score. After Kelly reached the end zone, he did a Gator Chomp and was called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

 

That forced the Vols to kick off from their own 20-yard line and gave the Gators a greater chance to return the kickoff. Sophomore receiver Tyrie Cleveland took advantage of the mistake and ran the ball back 46 yards to the Tennessee 44-yard line.

With a short field, this was the perfect time for the offense to produce when the team needed it the most.

After two straight runs, Franks converted a crucial third-down play with a nine-yard pass to Cleveland. On the next play, Franks almost connected on a touchdown pass to receiver Kadarius Toney, but a diving Toney could not hold on.

 

Finally, on first-and-goal, Franks threw a short pass to Powell, who was able to get in the end zone and put an end to the scoring drought. It was the first touchdown pass of Franks' career.

 

The Gators had their first offensive touchdown of the season but they didn't pull away and hide. Far from it. Facing second-and-14 at their own 31-yard line with four minutes remaining and nursing a 20-17 lead, Franks dropped back to pass.

However, Franks' throw bounced off two players' hands and fell into Tennessee's Rashaan Gaulden's lap. The game was still on.

 

"He [Feleipe] was just very calm. He didn't get rattled after the interception," Florida coach Jim McElwain said.

Tennessee kicked a field goal with 50 seconds left to tie the game at 20 after the Gators' defense made three terrific stops from the 9-yard line. What came next was a play that ranks as one of the most spectacular in UF history.

First, with the ball on their 25, Franks passed for three yards to tight end C'yontai Lewis. Franks then ran for six yards on second-and-seven. He was short of the first down as precious time ticked away and fans started to boo.

"I thought Feleipe got the first down and where it was marked, I wanted to save [a timeout] in case we needed to get a field goal," McElwain said. "I was kind of surprised there we didn't get a measure."

As time kept ticking, the Gators decided to run it on third down. Mark Thompsoncarried it for three yards and the Gators called a timeout with nine seconds left at their own 37.

They were not in kicker's Eddy Pineiro's range.

Instead, they chose to rely on the strong arm of Franks, the arm that has been talked about so much but seldom put on display in the first two starts of his young career.

McElwain said they called the same exact play that was called on Antonio Callaway's game-winning touchdown against Tennessee in 2015.

Same play call, but much different route.

Franks evaded pressure, rolled out to the right, and unleashed a deep ball that seemed to hang in the air forever. Almost 70 yards down the field was Tyrie Cleveland, who was able to get behind the secondary and track down the pass for a touchdown to win the game 26-20 as time expired.

 

The Swamp erupted.

"I didn't go into that play looking to throw the deep ball. I knew that the kicking line was about the 35- to the 38-yard line, but with nine seconds, it would be hard to get that far downfield and also get out of bounds," Franks said. "I was just thinking about getting the ball into a receiver's hands."

The touchdown catch was officially ruled a 63-yard catch for Cleveland, the exact number of yards as Callaway's game-winning fourth down catch in 2015. That was Callaway's first breakout performance for the Gators, and with him suspended at the moment, perhaps his catch Saturday could be Cleveland's moment to become the Gators' go-to option.

"Big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games," sophomore linebacker David Reese said.

And just like that, two heroes were born on an unforgettable day in The Swamp.