The No. 6 Florida Gators came minutes away from arguably the worst loss in school history and seconds away from playing overtime at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on homecoming until a late offensive touchdown and punt block return for a touchdown with two seconds remaining clinched a 27-20 victory over the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns on Saturday in Gainesville, FL.
Leading 13-3 early in the third quarter, Florida stumbled defensively and allowed Louisiana-Lafayette to score 17 unanswered points including its own punt block returned for a touchdown. Sophomore quarterback Jacoby Brissett, in as an injury replacement, led the Gators to a touchdown late in the fourth quarter, tying the game at 20 with under two minutes to play.
On the ensuing possession, the Ragin’ Cajuns decided to run the clock and play for overtime, but UF head coach Will Muschamp called a timeout as ULL was getting ready to punt on fourth down. Sophomore cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy promptly snuck his way inside the protection on the punt and blocked the ball, which fell into the hands of redshirt junior Will linebacker Jelani Jenkins, who charged 36 yards into the end zone for the game-winning touchdown.
The Gators avoided what may very well have been the worst loss in program history. UF had won 49-straight games against non-automatic qualifiers and had not fallen to such a team since Memphis State in 1988.
Read the rest of the Florida vs. Louisiana-Lafayette game story…
Florida kicked off to begin the game but got the ball back just a few plays later as junior defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd forced a fumble. Though wide receiver Harry Peoples was originally called down by contact, a challenge by Muschamp got the ball back for UF at the Louisiana-Lafayette 28-yard line.
The Gators were unable to convert the turnover into a touchdown, however, and a holding penalty on redshirt junior tight end Jordan Reed forced them to settle for a 38-yard field goal by redshirt senior kicker Caleb Sturgis and an early 3-0 lead.
Two possessions later, the Ragin’ Cajuns got on the board. Quarterback Terra Broadway hit WR Darryl Surgent for 48 yards on 1st-and-10 from UF’s 15, but Louisiana-Lafayette stalled and settled for a 49-yard field goal to tie the contest with 4:02 left in the first quarter.
Faced with going into the half tied, Florida turned things around and engineered an impressive nine-play, 85-yard scoring drive that included 31 rushing yards for sophomore QB Jeff Driskel, a 30-yard reception from Driskel to Reed and a three-yard touchdown pass to junior running back Trey Burton with seven seconds left to give UF a 10-3 lead at the half.
The Gators opened the second half with the ball and quickly drove it down the field. Redshirt senior TE Omarius Hines took a hand-off for 32 yards and gained 15 additional yards on the back of a facemask penalty. Driskel then took a carry 24 yards down inside the ULL five-yard line only to see sophomore TE Clay Burton drop a third-down pass from Reed, who took a shovel pass from Driskel. Florida settled for a 21-yard field goal to go up 13-3 on Louisiana-Lafayette.
The Ragin’ Cajuns responded immediately, putting together a nine-play, 77-yard touchdown drive aided by two untimely penalties by the Gators. On a third-down stop at ULL’s 36, UF redshirt senior Buck linebacker Lerentee McCray was called offsides, giving the visitors an additional attempt. Then, on 3rd-and-4 at Florida’s 13, Purifoy committed pass interference in the end zone, allowing Louisiana-Lafayette to score on a rush from two yards out.
On the ensuing possession, the Gators began moving the ball again but suffered a tough injury when Driskel went down and limped off the field favoring his right foot/ankle. Two plays later, sophomore punter Kyle Christy had his kick blocked and returned 22 yards for a touchdown, giving Louisiana-Lafayette its first lead of the game at 17-13 with 4:03 remaining in the third quarter.
The Ragin’ Cajuns got the ball back and once again drove down the field, keeping UF’s defense off-balance and taking advantage of yet another penalty, a holding call on sophomore CB Marcus Roberson on third down from the Gators 33-yard line. Louisiana-Lafayette then got down inside the 10 but settled for a short field goal to take a 20-13 lead with 13:11 left in the game.
The teams traded possessions with Florida finally taking over again on ULL’s 49-yard line with 1:14 to play. Brissett promptly hit Reed for 39 yards and followed that up by completing a three-yard pass to redshirt sophomore WR Quinton Dunbar for the game-tying score.
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The Gators escaped the Ragin’ Cajuns on Saturday despite barely moving the ball on offense the vast majority of the game and giving up big chunks of yardage to the visitors. Florida committed 10 penalties for 79 yards, many of which extended drives for Louisiana-Lafayette that otherwise would have ended. UF was also just 4-for-14 on third down and barely outgained ULL offensively (311-267) and in the time of possession battle (31:51-28:09).
Florida will remain at home and host Jacksonville State next Saturday for Senior Day in The Swamp. The game will air live at 1 p.m. only on pay-per-view.
Photo Credit: Phil Sandlin/Associated Press