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Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Notebook: Reliving UF's game-winning play vs. Tennessee; freshman corner standing out

<p>Tyrie Cleveland (89) runs with the ball during Florida's 26-20 win against Tennessee on Saturday at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.</p>

Tyrie Cleveland (89) runs with the ball during Florida's 26-20 win against Tennessee on Saturday at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

Surrounded by photographers in the south end zone of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Tyrie Cleveland collapsed to one knee and began to pump his fist.

He pumped it over and over again, overwhelmed with emotion as he tried to wrap his head around what he’d just done.

Moments prior, Cleveland had frantically been sprinting toward the goal line of Steve Spurrier-Florida Field, attempting to chase down a 63-yard Hail Mary in the closing seconds of UF’s home opener against Tennessee.

When he hauled it in – cementing a six-point victory for the Gators as time expired – chaos ensued.

Players and coaches alike stormed off Florida’s sideline and began to dogpile the sophomore receiver, leaping on top of him and shouting with adrenaline.

The 87,736 fans in attendance exploded with excitement as well, jumping up and down and screaming at the top of their lungs.

“I’ve got some burned images in my mind that I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life,” coach Jim McElwain said.

The Gators' first victory of 2017 wasn’t for the faint of heart.

After the game’s first three quarters came and went with nothing more than a trio of field goals, Florida and Tennessee combined to score 37 points in the final 14:23.

Quarterback Feleipe Franks’ completion to Cleveland capped off the madness, sending everyone present into such a frenzy that radio announcer Mick Hubert likened the atmosphere to that of an “insane asylum.”

Freshman defensive back CJ Henderson showing he belongs:

Overshadowed by Franks’ game-winning Hail Mary to Cleveland on Saturday, freshman cornerback CJ Henderson did something no Gator has accomplished since 1996: return an interception for a touchdown in back-to-back games.

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Henderson picked off a pass from Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight in the second quarter of UF’s season opener on Sept. 2 and ran it back 41 yards to the end zone.

Fourteen days later, he did so again against the Volunteers, this time snatching a throw from Quinten Dormady to score from 16 yards away.

“It was just a gift, right place at the right time,” Henderson said in an interview for FloridaGators.com. “The crowd went crazy. The craziest atmosphere I’ve ever been in.”

Henderson is one of two first-year defensive backs to receive significant playing time for Florida over its first two games – the other being Marco Wilson.

The two have combined to record 17 tackles and three pass breakups this season, helping to fill the void left behind by departed cornerbacks Teez Tabor and Quincy Wilson, Marco’s older brother.

Henderson and Wilson will continue to play a big role for UF as 2017 continues. Despite their inexperience, the two have already earned their teammates’ confidence. Just ask safety Chauncey Gardner Jr.

“We have the best of the best,” he said. “I would put those freshmen up against any wide receiver.”

You can follow Dylan Dixon on Twitter @dylanrdixon, and contact him at ddixon@alligator.org.

Tyrie Cleveland (89) runs with the ball during Florida's 26-20 win against Tennessee on Saturday at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

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