Down goes Florida – but it was close

Marvin Westwestwords

Overheard at Neyland Stadium: “Wonderful, wonderful and three hoorays.”

Tennessee defeated Florida, 38-33, to end the Gators’ demoralizing monopoly. Almost all of the spirited crowd (101,915) celebrated. The Vols are 4-0. On Monday they’ll undoubtedly be ranked in the top 10.

Ho, ho, ho, the Gators are 2-2.

Josh Heupel was very happy.

“Man, what a great night on Rocky Top. The energy inside the stadium was electric. It was unbelievable. It even surpassed my expectations. The Vol Walk was unlike anything I’ve ever seen as a player or coach. The fans were a huge part of the win.”

Coach, coach, it was a great game but it sure wasn’t a knockout and that was a close call at the end.

Florida gained more yards and earned more first downs. Tennessee blew most of a 17-point lead. Tennessee failed to make one more first down with 1:24 remaining that would have sealed the victory. Tennessee failed to field an onside kick and gave the Gators a last-second chance to win.

The short version of what happened at sold-out Neyland Stadium was a sensational quarterback shootout with unusual statistics. There weren’t many defensive stops.

Hendon Hooker was some degree of absolutely great – 22 of 28 passes for 349 yards and two touchdowns plus 13 runs for 112 more yards and another score. He absorbed some hard hits but kept getting up and doing more to win.

Oops, he did lose the ball on one of three sacks.

Florida’s Anthony Richardson set a career high with 453 yards passing. He threw for two TDs and got two on the ground. He also lost a fumble that proved significant.

Neither team shot off early fireworks. Tennessee’s Princeton Fant caught a pass and lost a fumble. Florida missed a field-goal attempt. Chase McGrath kicked a 32-yarder with a minute and change remaining in the first quarter.

This was the starting signal for offense-offense-offense.

The Gators went up 7-3 early in the second, Richardson to Keon Zipperer, 44 yards aided by three missed tackles. Hooker and Bru McCoy linked up on a 70-yard gain. The Hook capped off that opportunity with a four-yard run. The Gators countered with big chunks and regained the lead on a short Richardson keeper.

There was one punt. It rolled and stopped it at the UT 1 and the Vols assembled a 99-yard drive just before intermission. Highlight was an unbelievable catch by Ramel Keyton for 43 yards. He was the replacement for the absent Cedric Tillman.

Second-best play was a Hooker run for 17. The TD was Hooker to McCoy from the 1.

The Vols led 17-14 at the rest stop and scored again on the first possession of the third period. Jabari Small broke a 39-yard run and caught a 17-yard pass for the TD.

Florida responded with a 75-yard drive. Hooker answered with a miracle. He escaped the clutches of three Gators and ran 44 yards away from the scrum. Small cashed in the score.

Jaylen Wright put the home team ahead 38-21 with 7:55 to go. Ball game? No way. The visitors marched 75 with no hesitation. Big play was Richardson to Justin Shorter for 39.

The Vols didn’t know what to do with the remaining 4:49. They couldn’t run out the clock and they didn’t stop the Gators. Richardson completed passes for 28, 16 and 24 against something called “prevent.”

The defense didn’t prevent anything. Ricky Pearsall was wide open for the TD reception with 17 seconds to spare. The onside kick was no surprise. That the Gators got it was a bit unsettling.

How about that, Coach? Heupel conceded that the hands team had to find a way to get that football.

It did – after Richardson threw to Shorter for 14. He was next high through the end zone. He was hurried by Byron Young and picked off by Kamal Hadden.

Nothing to it, folks, had ‘em all the way.

Marvin West welcomes comments or questions from readers. His address is [email protected]

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