(GAINESVILLE, Fla.) – Jelani Jenkins scored the game-winning touchdown off a 36-yard blocked punt return with two seconds left to allow No. 7 Florida to escape with a 27-20 win over Louisiana in front of a crowd of 86,482 here Saturday afternoon at Florida's Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
The loss dropped the Cajuns to 5-4, while UF improved to 9-1.
Jenkins' defensive score capped off a string of 14 straight Gators points in the final 1:42 that took the upset victory and potential first win over an SEC program away from Louisiana which led 20-13 for the majority of the fourth quarter.
After Florida took a 13-3 lead on the second of two Caleb Sturgis field goals with 12:43 left in the third quarter, the Cajuns ran off 17 straight points, including a 22-yard return of a blocked punt by Blake Comminie, to open up the 20-13 lead.
Just when Florida seemed out of it, reserve quarterback Jacoby Brissett, who took over for an injured Jeff Driskel in the third quarter, heaved a third-down pass 39 yards to tight end Jordan Reed to set up the Gators first-and-goal as the clock dipped under two minutes.
On the very next play, Brissett completed a three-yard touchdown pass to Quinton Dunbar with 1:42 left to tie the game at 20-20.
The Ragin' Cajuns opted to play for overtime, but Brett Baer's punt was blocked by Loucheiz Purifoy and returned by Jenkins for the game-winning score.
"My heart goes out to our guys because they played one helluva game today," said UL head coach Mark Hudspeth who appeared to be in line for a huge birthday gift from his team. "The offense, defense and special teams all left their heart on the field today.
"We thought that if we could get to overtime, then who knows what would have happened," Hudspeth mentioned. "We were backed up after the kickoff, and with only 1:42 left I wasn't sure that we had enough time. We'd been grinding the ball on offense all day and hadn't made too many big plays. I just didn't think that 1:42 was enough to move into scoring position."
"We called our mass protection coverage on the punt because we knew that they were going to come after it, but our shield slipped a bit," Hudspeth explained when asked about the blocked punt. "They came with the same attack as earlier in the game, but this time, one of the guys came through and got to the punter."
The loss was a tough one for the Cajuns, especially for the defense that had not performed well in previous losses. Justin Anderson (12 tackles, 1 sack, 2 TFL) and Emeka Onyenekwu (career high nine tackles, 2.5 sacks) led the unit that limited the Top 10-ranked Gators to 311 yards of total offense.
The Cajuns defense limited UF running back Mike Gillislee to a mere 45 yards on 14 carries. No other Gators running back reached 40 yards rushing and the bulk of the hosts' 149 yards rushing came from quarterback Jeff Driskel (76 yards).
Louisiana's defense out-performed Florida's, posting 7.0 tackles-for-loss (five sacks included) compared to just 4.0 TFL's for the vaunted Gators unit.
The Cajuns finished with 267 yards of offense, as Terrance Broadway was 16-of-23 for 171 yards passing. Alonzo Harris finished with 68 yards on 20 carries against a UF defense that entered the contest allowing opponents just 99 yards rushing per game.
Harry Peoples' 10 receptions were the most by a Gators opposing player this season. Peoples gained 73 yards, the highest output for all receivers on the day.
Florida opened the scoring with Sturgis converting a 38-yard field goal at 11:22 of the opening quarter. The score came after Peoples fumbled the ball after making a first down catch on the third play of the game.
The Cajuns came right back, using a 46-yard pass from Broadway to Darryl Surgent to set up a 49-yard field goal by Brett Baer with 1:36 on the clock.
The Gators took a 10-3 lead with seven seconds left in the half when Driskel found Trey Burton open in the right corner of the end zone on a third-and-goal play.
Florida made it a 13-3 game, taking the second half kickoff and needing just six plays to drive 72 yards to set up Sturgis for a 29-yard field goal at the 12:43 mark of the third quarter.
The Cajuns answered right back. Harris scored on a two-yard run with 8:35 left to bring UL within 13-10. The score marked the finishing touch on a brilliant nine-play, 77-yard drive engineered by Broadway that was just the fourth offensive touchdown scored at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium this season by the opposition.
Peoples was the main offensive weapon on the drive, running the ball twice for 18 yards and catching two passes for 24 yards. The touchdown was set up on a pass interference call in the end zone against Florida that gave Louisiana the ball at the two-yard line.
Driskel left the game on the ensuing drive when he was hit hard on a quarterback keeper and came up staggering. Brissett replace Driskel and couldn't convert the third down play, forcing Florida to punt.
The UL special teams came through with the play of the day as Bradley Brown blocked the Kyle Christy punt and Comminie returned it 22 yards for the touchdown to put the Cajuns ahead, 17-13, with 4:03 left in the quarter.
The Cajuns extended the lead to 20-13 on a 22-yard field goal by Baer with 13:11 left in the game. The field goal came after a time-consuming 12-play, 77-yard drive that ate up 4:06.
"I felt that was the key series in the game," Hudspeth said. "We drove it down the field and had a first-and-goal at the eight yard line. If we had punched it into the endzone, I didn't think that Florida would have had enough to come back. But we had to settle for the field goal and that opened the door."
The kick was a record-setting one for Baer, improving him to 40-for-45 for his career (.889). It gave him the required 45 career attempts to break the NCAA record for career field goal accuracy, held by Florida's Bobby Raymond. Raymond was 43-for-49 (.878) from 1983-84.
The Ragin' Cajuns return home to resume Sun Belt Conference play with back-to-back home games starting with a 6:00 p.m. contest on Saturday, Nov. 17 vs. Western Kentucky and concluding on Saturday, Nov. 24 with a 4:00 p.m. meeting with South Alabama.
The Western Kentucky game is being dubbed Operation Blackout: Own the Night presented by LUS Fiber in conjunction with Military Appreciation Night. UL fans are being asked to wear black to the WKU contest which will be televised nationally on ESPN3.com.