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Friday, December 03, 2021
<p>UF wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland makes the game winning touchdown catch in Florida's 26-20 win against Tennessee at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.</p>

UF wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland makes the game winning touchdown catch in Florida's 26-20 win against Tennessee at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

After a 2017-18 UF athletics season full of unbelievable plays and exciting finishes, the alligatorSports staff narrowed down the annual Moment of the Year Award to four selections: Feleipe Franks’ touchdown to Tyrie Cleveland against Tennessee, Austin Langworthy’s walk-off home run against Auburn to send UF baseball to the College World Series, Caeleb Dressel’s record-setting 50-meter freestyle at the NCAA Championships and Jordan Matthews’ walk-off homer to lift Florida softball to the Women’s College World Series. The panel of Mark Stine, Evan Lepak, Brendan Farrell, Chris O’Brien and Andrew Huang argues its picks for last season’s best moment.
 
Andrew: If you’re going by wins and losses, the Florida football squad had the least successful season among the 19 different varsity sports teams representing UF.
 
But today, we’re talking about the best play of the year, which just so happens to belong to that same football team.
 
I remember it clearly, and definitely didn’t watch the replay on YouTube before recounting  “Heave to Cleve” for you: It was Sept. 16 and Tennessee was in the Swamp, the score was tied at 20 with nine seconds left in the fourth quarter, and the Gators had one last chance to win the game and avoid overtime. 
 
Quarterback Feleipe Franks was lined up in the shotgun formation and wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland was isolated on the left side of the field. 
 
The ball was snapped and the Volunteers’ four-man rush proved too much for the Gators offensive line. As the pocket collapsed, Franks evaded a tackle and slipped forward to the right hash mark, set his feet and launched the ball towards the end zone. 
 
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Cleveland had beat the cornerback in front of him and was streaking down the field. Then he got a step on one of UT’s safeties, and the pass hit Cleveland perfectly in stride. It was a season-long 63-yard completion for Franks and a season-long reception for Cleveland. 
 
The game was over.
 
It was pandemonium. It was yet another nail in the coffin of Vols head coach Butch Jones’ already-shaky job security. It was the entire Gators football team dogpiling on top of each other (with poor Cleveland stuck at the very bottom) in the end zone. It was the top moment, with little to no competition, of the UF athletics 2017-18 year.
 
 
Evan: My “Moment of the Year” candidate has my vote due to the sheer circumstances behind the play itself. 
 
First off, Game 3 of the Gainesville Super Regional between Auburn and Florida on June 11 was already bonkers to begin with. Not only was the winner heading to the College World Series, but the game featured a steal of home in the fourth inning that gave the Gators their second run of the contest.
 
In a postseason game, something like that is almost unheard of.
 
Heading into the bottom of the 11th, the contest was tied at two runs apiece. Gators left fielder Austin Langworthy hadn’t recorded a hit yet, and I certainly wasn’t expecting a walk-off winner from a guy who only accounted for four home runs the entire season.
 
But, as they say, sometimes you just have to expect the unexpected.
Langworthy put a charge into a pitch that greeted Auburn right fielder Steven Williams on the warning track. The ball inexplicably bounces out of Williams’ glove and over the fence to break the hearts of the Auburn faithful and to give UF its fourth-straight CWS berth.
 
Watching the dogpile ensue at home plate and the nearly 6,000 fans at McKethan Stadium all standing in unison made me think how awesome sports can be and how amazing of a moment the Langworthy walk-off really was.
 
 
Brendan: In the grand scheme of things, was the “Heave to Cleave” the most important moment in Florida athletics this past year? Of course not. It was merely a bright spot in what was otherwise an embarrassing season.
But sometimes, moments are bigger than just sports.
 
The game against Tennessee came just five days after Hurricane Irma devastated the state of Florida, killing 75 people and causing billions of dollars in damages. In times like these, people often turn to sports as a distraction from their problems. With heavy hearts, 87,736 fans packed the Swamp to watch the Florida Gators take on the Tennessee Volunteers.
 
The game itself was ugly, as the 9-6 score after three quarters had indicated, but a frantic fourth quarter left the score tied 20-20 with nine seconds to go and the Gators with the ball at their own 37-yard line. Scrambling to get away from a Tennessee pass rush, Feleipe Franks stepped up and unleashed a 63-yard bomb to a shockingly open Tyrie Cleveland in the end zone, giving UF a miraculous 26-20 win and sending the Swamp into a frenzy.
 
While other moments over the past year may have had more meaning on the field, to the people of Gainesville and other fans across the state of Florida, this will be the moment that they will always remember from 2017-18. 
 
After everything the community had faced over the past week, even if it was only for a few minutes, everything felt right in the Swamp.
 
 
Mark: I was at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium for my “Moment of the Year.”
 
With the Gators down one run in the bottom of the seventh inning during the Gainesville Super Regional’s final game against Texas A&M on May 26, the UF softball season came down to one batter: freshman Jordan Matthews. 
Matthews went hitless in the first two games of the series against the Aggies, but earlier that morning, she decided to change the weight of her bat from 24 ounces to 25, the weight she used as a high schooler in Anaheim, California. 
 
The switch resulted in a moment of brilliance from the freshman with two outs in the final inning of play. She blasted a 2-2 pitch off Texas A&M senior Trinity Harrington to plate three runs and send Florida to the Women’s College World Series. 
 
Better yet, Matthews’ bomb came a half-inning after the Aggies took the lead off a three-run homer by first baseman Tori Vidales. 
 
The walk-off was also UF’s second of the series. Catcher Janell Wheaton drew a game-winning walk in the first game of the Super Regional. 
 
The Matthews walk-off home run was a heart-stopping conclusion to an already thrilling series of softball.
 
 
Chris: Man, this was such a tough decision for me. 
I was in attendance for Langworthy’s home run to send the baseball team to the College World Series, and the crowd was electric. Caeleb Dressel obliterating the record was freaking legendary. Jordan Matthews’ home run to send UF softball to the CWS was insanely improbable. Moments like these are the reasons why sports are so captivating.
 
But there was just something different about the “Heave to Cleve.” 
 
I remember watching the play and thinking, "What the hell is Feleipe doing, C’yontai Lewis and Brandon Powell are wide open to put them in field goal range!" And as he threw it, I literally muttered to myself, “Jesus f---ing Christ, they’re going to OT.”
 
And then Cleveland caught it, and all hell broke loose.
Maybe it’s because it was my first game since I entered college, maybe it was the fact that it was Tennessee that the contest was against, but something about it just felt more electric than the rest of the season.
 
It probably has something to do with the fact that the Gators played absolutely horrendously the rest of the year.
 
This was supposed to be the year the Vols got UF back for the improbable Antonio Callaway 4th-down touchdown in 2015.
 
But instead, we watched magic unfold in front of our eyes as the ball dropped into the streaking Cleveland’s hands.
 
During that play, that one shining moment, Gainesville had hope again, and all was right in the world.
 

UF wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland makes the game winning touchdown catch in Florida's 26-20 win against Tennessee at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

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