That’s what stood between the Gators’ greatest walk-off, goal-line stand. Or not.
You could almost hear the palpitations of the Gator Nation’s heart collectively thumping. This kind of tension maybe hadn’t been felt by so many Gator fans since the dawning of the second era of Florida football, Two Score and 6 Years Ago.
One yard stood between a bruised, battered and disrespected Jim McElwain team and exoneration with an SEC East championship. Three ticks were left on the clock as LSU broke the huddle — an LSU team that makes its living pounding the rock, on a mission to save its interim coach, salvage its season and perhaps earn a trip to the Sugar Bowl.
Rarely had one yard meant so much.
Pressure radiated through the TV screen.
“I almost reached for my defibrillator,” said one Gator fan.
“I couldn’t watch,” said another.
The Greatest Walk-off, Goal-Line Stand in Gator history was about to unfold. And a remarkable thing happened: All of a sudden a divided and somewhat apathetic fan base seem to rally as if it cared again.
“I can’t remember a game that got me so fired up,” said Randy, 50 years a Gator. “I was beginning to wonder if I’d lost my passion.”
With the LSU fullback J.D. Moore going to his right in motion and then back to his left, Tigers quarterback Danny Ettling took the snap and pivoted to his right, as if expecting to see running back Derrius Guice there. Inexplicably, however, Guice cut to his left.
There was a pitch instead of a handoff, and as Guice tried to vault over the top on the game’s final play, he was engulfed by a sea of orange. You could see bodies colliding, arms reaching and hands grabbing as numbers 93 and 17 and 26 in orange stoned Guice.
No. 26, by the way, was safety Marcell Harris, playing after two years of virtual inactivity except on special teams because sure-handed tackling Marcus Maye broke his arm and was lost for the season. Harris was the guy who made early contact with Guice, along with lineman Jordan Sherit (No. 17) and wound up on the bottom of the pile. No. 93 is Taven Bryan.
On the Florida-Georgia game roster, Harris was inadvertently listed as “6-11” instead of 6-1. On Saturday at the goal line, with the season was riding on one last snap, the red-shirt junior from Orlando Dr. Phillips looked 10 feet tall as he unfolded from a mass of gold pants.
I’ve been watching Gator football since the 1950s and covering it since the ’60s when I was in college. Even I must admit I’ve never seen so much riding on a defense for a single yard. I’d never seen anything like it. And neither had three former Gator players and a former coach.
“No, never,” said the HBC (Head Ball Coach) himself, Steve Spurrier. “Not with so much riding on it.”
LSU, a team that prides itself on power football and had bullied its way through the SEC for decades, got outmuscled and outhit. And this was after Florida’s Jordan Scarlett had run the ball up the Tigers’ gut on a long drive, something LSU usually does to other teams.
What went wrong? Or went right, for that matter?
Watching the replay, one former Gator quarterback who coaches high school football thought it looked a bit like a busted play and wondered if Ettling had turned the wrong way or if Guice had run to the wrong side.
It was much deeper than that, however. Resentment had boiled over ever since the Oct. 8 postponement of the game scheduled for The Swamp and it was suggested that the Gators “are scared of us.” Unfriendly negotiations took place and, finally, it was outgoing Florida AD Jeremy Foley who capitulated, agreeing to play in Baton Rouge this year in exchange for playing 2017 and 2018 in Gainesville.
Spurrier, watching from home in Florida in near disbelief, said he’d never seen anything like it either. Spurrier suggested, “Maybe the football gods were saying they shouldn’t have moved the game to Baton Rouge – maybe things went our way because Commissioner (Greg) Sankey and Jeremy Foley handled it the right way.”
Outright disrespect can incite a powerful reaction.
“They insulted us. Are we going to lay down or smack them in the mouth?” asked Scarlett.
“They got what they deserved,” Florida coach Jim McElwain.
And Mac deserved better. Idiots like me predicted his team would lose, maybe even big.
I wish I’d applied my Newton’s Law theory: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
I may have made a stupid prediction but Clay Travis gets the award for the dumbest tweet of the year that he made early last month:
“Scared of losing and falling in the standings, Florida is using #HurricaneMatthew to dodge LSU. — @ClayTravis.”
You could still see the smoke steaming out of McElwain’s ears in his post-game comments:
“They were called out. And you know what amazes me? People call people out when there’s actual tragedy happening. Unbelievable to me.”
These things can turn on a dime. Think about this. When Jimbo Fisher takes over as LSU coach, he gets to bring his Tigers to the Swamp two straight years.