Florida rallies, survives for 11th straight win against Vols
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) Florida's latest victory against Tennessee was arguably the most improbable in series history.
It was so surprising that even the Gators celebrated it three times.
Freshman Antonio Callaway's 63-yard touchdown reception with 1:26 remaining gave the Gators an 11th consecutive win against the Southeastern Conference rival Volunteers, 28-27 on Saturday.
''I think down deep, you just don't lose to Tennessee. And they didn't,'' Florida coach Jim McElwain said.
Callaway ran a deep curl on a fourth-and-14 play, caught the pass from Will Grier, turned outside and beat three defenders to the end zone. Fellow receiver Brandon Powell threw a key block down the field that allowed Callaway to score.
The Gators (4-0, 2-0 SEC) started hooting and hollering wildly on the sideline, surely thinking the win was sealed. The Volunteers (2-2, 0-1) were stunned.
But Tennessee got another chance.
Josh Dobbs, who led the Vols in passing, rushing and receiving, moved them into field-goal range. But Aaron Medley missed twice from 55 yards with 3 seconds on the clock. He missed badly on the first one, and the Gators ran onto the field to start the party. They were summoned back after realizing McElwain had called timeout to ice Medley.
Medley missed again, his second kick sliding wide right by less than a foot.
It was so close that Tennessee coach Butch Jones and several players jumped up and ran onto the field. Then reality set in: another shocking loss for the Vols.
According to STATS, LLC, there have been six games this season in which a team lost after leading by double digits in fourth quarter. Tennessee has been on the losing end of two of them. The Vols also blew a double-digit lead to Oklahoma earlier this month.
This one will be remembered for some questionable calls on Tennessee's end:
- Leading 20-7 with about 5 minutes remaining in the third, Jones mysteriously called timeout on a fourth-and-6 play with about 5 minutes remaining. Instead of settling for a field goal, the Gators sent Grier back out and he completed a 21-yard pass to Powell. Kelvin Taylor followed with his second rushing touchdown.
- Trying to run out the clock, Vols quarterback Josh Dobbs ran a keeper on a third-and-6 play that was stuffed for a loss and helped Florida get the ball back with a little more than 2 minutes to play.
- Up 26-14 after Jalen Hurd's touchdown run early in the fourth, the Vols decided to kick the extra point instead of attempt a 2-point conversion. The point ended up being crucial.
''We have a chart that's pretty standard in football, that maps it out,'' Jones said. ''We just felt at that stage of the game, we had great confidence in our defense of getting off the field. We felt very comfortable with that decision.''
Tennessee's biggest problem was stopping Florida on fourth down.
The Gators converted all five fourth-down tries in the game, including three in the fourth quarter, and improved to 10 for 10 on the season.
''Three fourth-down conversions that if we get off the field we're going to win the football game,'' Jones said. ''We've got to close the game out, get off the field, get into the victory formation and it's over with.''
Instead, Florida came out on top again and extended the streak to its longest in series history.
Taylor ran for 102 yards and two scores. Grier completed 23 of 42 passes for 283 yards, with two touchdowns and an interception.
Grier was at his best late. He was 11 of 17 for 141 yards and two scores in the final two drives, which helped Florida overcome the double-digit deficit.
''You've got to battle,'' Grier said. ''You deal with adversity and you've got to respond. ... We fought until the end and that's what you've got to do to win games like that.''
For much of the game, Dobbs was the best player on the field.
He ran for 136 yards, completed 10 of 17 passes for 82 yards, and had a 58-yard reception on one of two trick plays.
But those plays will end up getting lost in the shuffle after Callaway's memorable catch and run.
''I don't know if we deserved it or not,'' McElwain said. ''But I prefer it this way. It was pretty cool, wasn't it?''
AP College Football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org