Feleipe Franks didn’t go into the final play of Florida’s home opener against Tennessee on Saturday expecting to throw a 63-yard hail mary as time expired.
In fact, he wasn’t planning on throwing the ball, period.
As Franks received the game’s concluding snap from center T.J. McCoy and began to roll out to his right, his first instinct was to make a play with his legs.
“I was actually thinking about just running it,” he said.
Luckily for the Gators, he changed his mind.
Franks darted past a pair of defenders – narrowly avoiding a sack from Volunteer defensive lineman Jonathan Kongbo – when he noticed sophomore Tyrie Cleveland streaking down the field toward the end zone.
The receiver had created a little bit of space between himself and defensive back Micah Abernathy, and in a split-second decision, Franks altered his course, halting in front of the line of scrimmage to hurl a pass at his sprinting teammate.
The ball hung in the air for a total of four seconds. When it came down, chaos ensued.
Cleveland had managed to haul in the reception. UF had miraculously won the game.
“It was crazy,” Cleveland said. “I was just shocked that it all happened.”
Florida and Tennessee were tied 20-20 with the game clock at triple zeros when Franks’ prayer from the other side of the field landed in the hands of his receiver.
The Gators’ bench was sent into a frenzy of emotion, propelling both players and coaches alike off the sideline and into the end zone to dogpile on top of Cleveland.
“It was a thrilling game,” running back Mark Thompson said in a release. “We’re happy that we won, everyone is, and we got to keep going strong.”
The victory-sealing completion is UF’s longest pass of the season as well as the first touchdown of Franks career.
It also kept Florida from starting 0-2 for the first time since 1971.
Cleveland told reporters after the game that he frequently works on catching deeping balls from his quarterbacks at practice, so much so that he was confident he’d come through when put to the test.
“I knew I had it,” he said. “I knew I would come down with it. I made it my by business to come down with it.”
You can follow Dylan Dixon on Twitter @dylanrdixon, and contact him at [email protected].