Advertisement
  1. Sports

Goal-line stand clinches SEC East for Florida

UF running back Jordan Scarlett’s expression says it all: The Hurricane Matthew makeup game features lingering hard feelings, a pregame scuffle and gritty efforts.
UF running back Jordan Scarlett’s expression says it all: The Hurricane Matthew makeup game features lingering hard feelings, a pregame scuffle and gritty efforts.
Published Nov. 20, 2016

BATON ROUGE, La. — If Florida was going to win the SEC East for a second year in a row, it had to happen the way it did Saturday.

Not with the offensive explosions of the past, but with one defensive stand that will go down in Gators history.

"Things aren't always pretty," coach Jim McElwain said. "This time of year's pretty in Atlanta. It's the second year we'll go see it."

That possibility seemed unlikely two months ago, when the Gators lost control of the division at Tennessee. It seemed unthinkable two weeks ago when they left Arkansas beaten and beaten up.

But it is undeniable now after a 16-10 victory, UF's first at Tiger Stadium since 2009. McElwain is the first coach ever to start his SEC career with back-to-back trips to the title game. His No. 21 Gators (8-2, 6-2 SEC) will meet No. 1 Alabama at the Georgia Dome again (after next week's trip to No. 17 Florida State).

Parts of Saturday's victory were predictably ugly. The Gators were outgained 423-270 and finished with only one touchdown.

But it was one for the record books. Freshman receiver Tyrie Cleveland shed cornerback Donte Jackson and took Austin Appleby's bomb for a 98-yard touchdown — UF's longest since Cris Collinsworth's 99-yarder to Derrick Gaffney in 1977 — for a 10-7 lead.

UF amassed 38 more yards on that score than it did in the previous 36 minutes combined. That, as usual, did not matter, because of a defense that continues to survive — and thrive — despite injuries. UF held LSU (6-4, 4-3) to only 10 points on five trips inside the 7.

"We knew they couldn't do nothing with us," said standout tackle Caleb Brantley, who had three tackles for a loss and forced a fumble.

Because LSU couldn't convert on two of its first four trips near the goal line, UF knew it could handle the Tigers when it mattered most, with a six-point lead in the closing seconds.

With a first down at the UF 7, LSU ran for 2 yards, then 4, setting up third and goal at the 1.

"It's straight savage mode," end CeCe Jefferson said.

And Jefferson was straight savage on the first attempt from the 1, stuffing a fullback dive that LSU pounded the Gators with earlier. The Gators knew what was coming next, at the 1 with three seconds left.

"Everybody in the stadium knew they were going to try to shove the ball in there," cornerback Quincy Wilson said. "We were all ready for that."

They were ready, because their entire season had been building toward that one play — hippo diamond stick.

They had one of the nation's best defensive lines creating pressure up the middle, with tackle Joey Ivie (Pasco High) bursting through his gap. Linebacker David Reese, a true freshman thrust into the lineup only because of star senior Jarrad Davis' ankle injury, did the same.

With one potential opening closed, running back Derrius Guice had to pause before bouncing left. His hesitation bought enough time for safety Marcell Harris to blow past the fullback. He and Hillsborough High product Jordan Sherit caught Guice's legs as Guice leaped toward the goal line.

Guice fumbled and came up inches short. That set up a celebration that seemed sweeter thanks to this rivalry's buildup — a pregame scuffle involving Tigers star Leonard Fournette and weeks of LSU chatter that the Gators used Hurricane Matthew as a way to try to duck the game.

"The way I look at it," McElwain said, "they got what they deserved."

So did his Gators — a performance that wasn't pretty but still ended up as a masterpiece.

Contact Matt Baker at mbaker@tampabay.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. A little more than a month into the season, Nature Coast Tech sophomore Kennedy Weissman leads the state in scoring with 41 goals and 92 points, almost double the totals of the next closest player. [SCOTT PURKS  |  Special to the Times]
    The sophomore has a whopping 41 goals so far this season, easily tops of any player in Florida.
  2. Pro Football Hall of Famer Brett Favre has the all-time NFL record for most interceptions thrown in a career. He led the league in interceptions three times. He said this year's interceptions leader, Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston, has "huge upside." [MATT LUDTKE  |  AP]
    The Pro Football Hall of Famer, and the NFL’s all-time interceptions leader, says Winston might be trying to do too much downfield. He knows from experience.
  3. Largo's Julia Violante (6), center, gets a hug from teammate Sarai Faulkner (17), right, while joining Asti Luff (23), left, and McKenzie Emery (14) at midfield moments after scoring her second goal of the night (2-0) against St. Petersburg on Monday. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  TImes]
    The University of Florida commit is having a banner season on the pitch, but is missing her biggest fan.
  4. Tampa Bay Rays Principal Owner Stuart Sternberg, right, with U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, during a Rays playoff game against the Houston Astros in October. [DIRK SHADD  |  Times]
    Also, a peek into their thought process on why standing pat is bad, as was Pat Burrell, and other things they’ve learned.
  5. The XFL isn't a developmental league, but it is a "league of opportunity," commissioner Oliver Luck said Tuesday. "Bust your butt, play hard, have a chance to get great game tape and you’ll get a shot in the NFL." [TED S. WARREN  |  Associated Press]
    In a wide-ranging interview, the commissioner discusses the state of the league. “Playing good football is our mandate,” he says. “We have to do that. We can’t be sloppy.”
  6. In this Jan. 5 file photo, Clemson Tigers co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott speaks with media during media day at the SAP Center prior to the College Football Playoff national championship game  vs. the Alabama Crimson Tide at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. [ADAM LACY  |  ZUMAPRESS.com]
    Scott will be the sixth assistant to keep working for a College Football Playoff team while serving as an incoming head coach elsewhere.
  7. Hezekiah B. Walters, 14, was a member of Men of Vision, a local non-profit for teens. He collapsed while participating in football conditioning drills at Middleton High School during the summer. [MEN OF VISION  |  Special to the Times]
    The death of Middleton High’s Hezekiah B. Walters during summer conditioning helps spark a bill that seeks better protection for players at practices and games.
  8. East Lake and rival St. Petersburg squared off Tuesday night, this time as non-district foes. [DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    The Eagles’ 67-30 victory over the Green Devils is their fourth straight in the series since late last season.
  9. Springstead guard Unique Torain makes a nifty assist during a victory at Nature Coast on Tuesday night. [SCOTT PURKS  |  Special to the Times]
    The Eagles are led by Unique Torain’s 18 points and unselfish play.
  10. Tampa Bay Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg talks with reporters during a briefing at the Winter Meetings in San Diego, California on December 10, 2019. [WILL VRAGOVIC  |  Tampa Bay Rays]
    Principal owner says staying full time in Tampa Bay remains unlikely, so the focus remains on sharing games with Montreal.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement