Two years ago Brad Stewart was sitting in Tiger Stadium watching Florida and LSU play. Florida wasn’t scheduled to be in Baton Rouge that weekend but Hurricane Matthew delayed the game and moved it from Gainesville, so he, as a four-star recruit from New Orleans wasn’t going to miss the game between the two schools he was considering.
Stewart watched that game intently and when it was over he knew where he wanted to be.
“I remember that fourth down stop. I remember them driving on the last drive. I remember them getting to the goal line and Gators coming out victorious,” Stewart said. I was like dang, they did that. That was a big part of me coming here.”
Stewart spent all last season looking forward to playing LSU again. He played sparingly and didn’t record a tackle, which made him circle this game twice. Stewart dealt with text messages and phone calls from back home all this week. His friends from back home aren’t kind when it’s Florida-LSU week but Stewart remained confident.
Florida’s defense was stout on Saturday. Joe Burrow, LSU’s transfer quarterback from Ohio State, hadn’t thrown an interception all season. He was smart with the ball and stayed within the gameplan week after week but came into the game completing just 44% of his passes under pressure.
“We knew he was a smart quarterback, and he ain’t made too many mistakes,” Stewart said. “We just wanted to rattle him and get to him and get to the quarterback late in the game like we did last week and seal the deal.”
Florida did just that. They sacked Burrow five times and had 11 tackles for a loss I the game. They lived in the Tigers’ backfield and that all led up to this moment. With the score 20-19 and less than just over two minutes left to play Stewart stepped in front of a Joe Burrow pass. It was the first interception of Burrow’s career and Stewart had nothing but green grass between himself and the end zone.
Stewart dove into the endzone, the tip of the football hitting the pylon for a score that would, after the PAT, put Florida up eight. It was the perfect ending to the game for the kid from New Orleans. He handed the ball to Vosean Joseph, who promptly kicked it into the stands for a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty.
“He gave it to me. I was like I’m gonna boot it. I’m gonna kick it,” Joseph said. “Brad got it so I was happy for him but he gave it to me so I’m gonna kick it.”
That play was an homage to Brandon Spikes, who kicked a ball into the stands after a pick six against LSU in 2007, as that team was being honored at the game today. The penalty was ill timed, however. It was only an eight point game at the time and those 15-yards gave LSU good field position. Dan Mullen also pointed out that it could have been over if Stewart hadn’t done for the pylon.
“One of the hardest things to do in football is if he runs it back to the one and takes a knee, the game’s probably over at that moment,” Mullen said. “It’s just tricky when you’re up one and we score and it goes to eight, and they can still go do it.”
That message was relayed from Mullen to Stewart before Stewart even got back on the field for kickoff.
That was evident after the game. With the outcome already decided and time to soak in the win and the play I asked Stewart if the game could have ended any better than a pick six for the kid over his home town team.
“Yeah, me kneeling the ball,” he said with a laugh.
“It meant a lot to me, but honestly it’s just another game,” Stewart said. “We’re trying to get to somewhere longer down the road. So, really, it’s just another game and just come out to prepare for the next week as well.”