May 27, 2024

No. 23 Tennessee drops heartbreaker to No. 24 Florida

Despite a fourth quarter comeback, No. 23 Tennessee fell to No. 24 Florida 26-20 on a Hail Mary as time expired.

No. 23 Tennessee lost to No. 24 Florida 26-20 on a Gators’ Hail Mary as time expired on Saturday afternoon. Florida (1-1, 1-0 SEC) quarterback Feleipe Franks found Tyrie Cleveland as he slipped behind the Tennessee defensive backs for a 63-yard walk-off win.

Tennessee (2-1, 0-1 SEC) hasn’t won in Gainesville since 2003, and despite overcoming a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter, the streak lives on.

The first half of the game between the Vols and Gators set football back ages, as both teams were sloppy throughout most of the game.

Florida struck early though, as kicker Eddy Pineiro connected on a 27-yard field goal to cap off an opening drive in which the Gators went 65 yards down the field in 15 plays. With the Gators leading 3-0, Pineiro connected on his second field goal attempt of the game, drilling a 41-yard field goal to extend the Florida lead to 6-0.

Following the field goal, Tennessee finally put points on the board as freshman Brent Cimaglia connected on his first career field goal attempt from 51-yards out, cutting the Florida lead to 6-3. Cimaglia’s first career field goal was the longest by a Tennessee kicker since Michael Palardy made a 51-yarder against Missouri in 2013. The Tennessee native would go on to finish one-of-three on his field goal attempts after missing from 47-and-51-yards out.

The score would remain 6-3 through three quarters before CJ Henderson picked off a Quinten Dormady pass that sailed high-and-through the hands of Marquez Callaway. Henderson would return it 18–yards for a Florida touchdown, extending the Gators lead to 13-3.

After the Vols offense stalled, Justin Martin forced a Florida fumble as Malik Davis was about to score. The ball dribbled through the back of the end zone for a touchback, giving the ball back to Tennessee.

On the ensuing possession, junior running back John Kelly took over. Kelly capped off a five-play, 80-yard drive with a 34-yard touchdown run to cut the Florida lead to 13-10.

The Gators immediately struck back, as they drove down the field and scored their first offensive touchdown of the season on a five-yard passing touchdown from Franks to Brandon Powell.

Dormady then orchestrated a touchdown drive to pull the Vols within three, 20-17. On the drive, Dormady found Kelly for a 52-yard gain on a screen pass before hitting Ethan Wolf for a 28-yard touchdown pass.

Dormady would finish 21-of-39 for 259 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions.

Kelly put the rest of the conference on notice with his performance on Saturday, as he rushed for 141 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries. The junior now leads the SEC in rushing yards (349) and is tied for first in rushing touchdowns (5). Kelly was also the Vols leading receiver, catching six passes for 96 yards.

The Tennessee defense then came up with a crucial stop following the Wolf touchdown, as Rashaan Gaulden intercepted a tipped pass from Franks. Dormady would then drive down the field to set up a game-tying field goal attempt for Aaron Medley. Despite missing a field goal earlier in the game, Medley drilled a 27-yard field goal to tie the game at 20-20.

Then as time expired, Franks felt the pressure of the clock with time expiring and threw a Hail Mary.

Tennessee now returns home to face UMass next Saturday. Kickoff is set for 12 p.m. ET on the SEC Network.

Feature image courtesy of Greenberry Taylor

Edited by Kaitlin Flippo

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