Will Grier and Antonio Callaway have forever branded their names in the hearts of Gator Nation. We will all remember the unbelievable touchdown pass that ripped the hearts out of every Volunteer, young and old, and turned Knoxville into the Salem Witch Trials with Butch Jones being the primary offender. The play rivals any great moment in Florida Gators football history, but those moments are only born through the canal of adversity.
Last week after the Kentucky win, I said that Florida’s next five game stretch would be a character defining stretch, and man, did it come quick. Josh Dobbs, Jalen Hurd and the Vols defense threw haymakers early and body blows late that felt like it finally beat Florida, but this is not your Muschamp Gators, at least for one day. Florida got off the mat after seemingly being knocked out, to pull off a dramatic Rocky-like comeback.
The week leading up to the game saw the line flip throughout the week and it was a prelude to the roller coaster of momentum and emotions during the game. This series has had some gut wrenching endings for both teams and the 2015 edition may have been the worst the Volunteers have had to endure. After being up 20-7, with the ball, and with 7 minutes left in the 3rd quarter, Florida finished the game on a 21-7 run to remain undefeated.
Florida will hear a lot about the play to Callaway, praises will rain down upon them from all over and deservedly so. It was a great moment, a potential monumental momentum changing moment, if and only if the Gators don’t stay in the moment but build on the momentum they received.
By no means did Florida play a perfect game. We still saw moments that lacked discipline, decisions that made us go, huh? And some may have found themselves questioning the coaching staff. One thing you cannot criticize was effort that led to the breathtaking finish. The plays leading up to that moment should not be forgotten. The accumulation of fight in the Gators was manifested on the game-winning touchdown.
Whether it was the effort by Bryan Cox, Jr. to force and recover the fumble by Dobbs. Will Grier playing through pain and consistently getting off the turf to lead a 17-play touchdown drive. The multiple fourth down efforts from Brandon Powell and Jake McGee. When Florida’s defense needed a stop after giving up a 17 play touchdown drive, they stopped the Volunteers on three plays for zero yards, setting up the game winning drive. There were many other plays that showed the character of this squad, and those types of plays have not been made here in quite some time.
I believe in times past the Gators may not have recovered from the Hurd touchdown that put Tennessee up two scores. It was a punch in the gut and the ten game winning streak looked to be coming to an end. Then after that point, something happened. It was a part of human personality that is only born in challenging conditions. The ability to stay calm, focused and continue pushing to the end.
“Our guys didn’t panic and that was good to see. They played their hearts out for the Gators and the fans and previous Gators (alumni).” McElwain said in the postgame press conference.
For a young team like Florida, you typically do not see that type of effort in that situation. Credit Dobbs and the Tennessee players, they fought to the last second, with a ‘little bit’ of help from the black and white stripes. We knew Tennessee would have their moments and make plays, what we didn’t know was if they could finish the game if given the opportunity, and Florida surely gave them a chance to put it away to only be the consummate Indian giver and rip the win out of their hands.
Winning is mentality, its more than just x’s and o’s it goes beyond just the execution. Winning games consistently and meeting every challenge is an inner belief that no wall is too high to get over. Saturday afternoon we saw two teams attack the wall differently. Tennessee for the second time this year fell short after holding a double digit lead, they kept it close to the vest and trusted that the effort they gave for 50 minutes of the game would be enough to win. Thankfully for McElwain and the Gators, it’s a 60 minute contest, and Florida took the last 10 minutes of the game to send their eleventh straight dagger into the hearts of the Volunteers.
4th down after 4th down the Gators proved that they would not give up and it was one 4th down and 63 yard play that made unforgettable history that could possibly be a program changing play. Next week against Ole Miss the Gators will continue to write the definition of themselves. One thing that has been written thus far is that this bunch of Gators are definitely full of will and full of heart.