“In all my years of playing football, I’ve never seen a touchdown like that on a blocked [punt]. I went ballistic,” said Florida Gators junior defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, recalling how Saturday’s game against the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns came to a thunderous conclusion right before his very eyes.
For most of the players on the field and many of the fans both in the stands and watching nationally the SEC Network affiliates, Saturday’s game was an unexpected nail-biter and ended with a jolt that was equally unfathomable.
After tying the game 20-20 late in the fourth quarter, Florida kicked off to Louisiana-Lafayette, expecting the team to try and gain a first down in order to run out the final 1:42 of regulation and force overtime.
As head coach Will Muschamp explained:
“We score, I wanted to see what they were going to do. Obviously when they put [running back Alonzo Harris] in the game, which had been about 100 percent run in the game on first down, I knew we had two timeouts. I was going to hold it and see what they did on second down.”
The Ragin’ Cajuns ran the ball again, but Muschamp did not budge and allowed the clock to continue ticking down. After Harris ran a third time and was stopped three yards short of a first down, he called his first time out with 13 seconds left in regulation.
“I felt very good about what D.J. [Durkin] had for a [punt] block. I asked D.J. on the headsets, ‘Do you feel good about [us] getting there?’ He said, ‘Absolutely.’ So instead of taking this timeout after second down, I was going to take it to overtime and then try to block on third down. It just turns out it worked out well for us,” Muschamp explained.
“They ran the ball there on third down. We called timeout. We had 13 seconds. I told [sophomore safety De’Ante Saunders], ‘Don’t field the ball – get away from it – we’re going to try to block it.’ I told D.J., ‘Make sure we’re safe just in case they might try and fake one.’ He said, ‘We got all the eligible [receivers] covered and we’re going to go after it.’ And I said, ‘Absolutely. Let’s go do it.’”
And “do it” the Gators did.
Read the rest of this story…after the break!
Sophomore cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy charged around the left protector, got his right hand squarely on the punted ball and popped it 12 yards backwards in the air. Redshirt junior Will linebacker Jelani Jenkins corralled it and ran it back 35 yards for the game-winning return touchdown with a caravan of four blockers leading the way.
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“It was just a great play by Loucheiz when he got that block. He executed it perfectly, and I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. I was surprised I happened to be there, but it came right to me. I just tried to run as fast as I could,” said Jenkins, who noted that it was “probably [the] No. 1” play of his collegiate career.
Purifoy said he saw Jenkins catch the ball and prayed that he was able to conclude the game on that very play. “I was just like, ‘Run Jelani, please run, just get in the end zone so it can be over.’”
Muschamp was more than happy to heap on the praise after the game, noting that “it was a situation that was very well-executed by our players in a pressure situation and nicely designed by our staff.”
He called Purifoy “a fantastic player and a guy that’s really developed himself in his sophomore year,” adding that “he just has a knack for blocking kicks and playing the ball downfield.”
Muschamp also praised the intelligence of Jenkins, a physiology and kinesiology major whose grade point average is high but not as high as his head coach believed in his post-game comments.
“Jelani’s got like a 3.8 [GPA]. He’s a smart guy. He makes good decisions on the field. He’s a really good football player,” Muschamp said. “We seemed like we had a little bit of a convoy there to the end zone. It was an outstanding, very smart, intelligent play. I’m not being facetious; I’m being serious.”
He then dead-panned, “I wish he ate those two seconds off so we didn’t have to kick off, so that wasn’t very smart on his part.”
An explosive tackle by senior safety Josh Evans on the ensuing kickoff made those two lingering seconds on the game clock completely irrelevant.
The prior play, which helped the Gators avoid what may very well have been the worst loss in program history considering Florida had won 49-straight games against non-automatic qualifiers and had not fallen in such a contest since 1988, could not have been any more relevant.
Photo Credits: Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun