Bucs rookie linebacker Geno Hayes enjoyed plenty of highlights during his stellar career at FSU. Last year, he returned an interception 38 yards for a late touchdown to help end second-ranked Boston College's perfect season. And as a freshman, he recovered a blocked punt in the end zone against Clemson for a touchdown. But Hayes never had a moment like the one he created Sunday. With Carolina's Jason Baker back to punt on the game's first possession, the 6-1, 226-pounder from Greenville burst through the line untouched and blocked the punt. He then scooped up the bouncing ball and dashed 22 yards for a 7-0 lead 2:35 into the game. It was the first blocked punt by a Buccaneer since David Gibson in 2003, and the first blocked punt returned for a TD since Todd Yoder in 2001. And Hayes was understandably ecstatic. How did the play come about?
We called a little blitz for the whole line. As I was going, the outside tackle took a step or two too far outside. I gave him a stutter and go, went up under, blocked the punt, scooped it and went.
Was there anything you'd seen on tape with Carolina to exploit?
That I can't answer. … Can't give out secrets. But there were some things on tape they had shown, especially from their blocks from the Chicago game (on Sept. 14).
What was going through your mind?
Pick it up. Score. And just go crazy. That was my thought. Score and just have fun with it. It was a big thing and I knew it was going to boost momentum.
Where will you put the ball?
Right next to my TV up under the Houston Texans interception (from preseason).
It almost looked like you dribbled the football. Did you consider falling on it instead?
When I hit it, (the ball) bounced off my chest and hit the ground real fast. And when I looked down, it bounced back up. I caught it in my hands, like it just came to me.
How big did your eyes get?
They got real big, 'cause I was surprised myself that I came that free.
Have you ever blocked a punt before at any level?
That's my first one ever.
How big was this for you personally?
It was real big. I've been doing pretty good so far, but this added a little bit more to my repertoire.
Dave Scheiber, Times staff writer