Florida uses late punt block to sneak by Louisiana

By Greg Luca

Independent Florida Alligator, U. Florida via UWIRE

Florida uses late punt block to sneak by Louisiana

With the Gators on the verge of a season-crushing loss, Loucheiz Purifoy kept Florida’s BCS hopes alive.

Florida continued its season-long trends of slow starts and anemic offense, and on Saturday the result was nearly catastrophic. Sun Belt opponent Louisiana took a lead with 4:03 remaining in the third quarter and held it deep into the fourth. Even after Jacoby Brissett hooked up with Quinton Dunbar to tie the score at 20 with 1:42 remaining, Louisiana was in position to send the game to overtime.

A UF loss would have undone its surprising season, thoroughly overshadowing wins against Southeastern Conference powerhouses South Carolina and LSU.

But when Louisiana-Lafayette’s Brett Baer came on with 13 seconds remaining to attempt a punt — seemingly a mere formality on the way to overtime — Purifoy made the play of the season.

Coach Will Muschamp asked special teams coordinator D.J. Durkin if he had a punt block prepared, and Durkin was confident. “Absolutely,” he said.

So Muschamp made the call: “Black.” That was Purifoy’s signal to go — exactly what he wanted to hear. After lining up 5 yards off the line of scrimmage, Purifoy noted the weak spot in Louisiana’s protection and took a spot on the left side of Florida’s punt-block formation.

He came untouched off the edge and simply put his hand in the path of the ball. He did not make a swatting motion, which would have given him the chance to miss. He needed only to extend his right arm.

“That’s a once-in-a-lifetime feeling,” Purifoy said. “That’s a great feeling.”

The deflected ball fluttered to Jelani Jenkins, who hardly had to move after positioning himself about 10 yards off the line to watch for a potential fake. Jenkins and a caravan of unnecessary blockers trotted to the end zone uncontested as Purifoy pointed the way, letting out a leaping fist-pump as his teammate crossed the plane of the goal to seal UF’s 27-20 win on Saturday in The Swamp.

“I saw Jelani catch it and I was just like, ‘Run, please,’” Purifoy said. “’Get in the end zone.’”

“Usually when the ball is blocked, we try to get away from it,” Jenkins said. “But the game was on the line. I saw open field and just tried to make a play.”

Although Georgia’s 38-0 drubbing of Auburn ensured that UGA and not UF will represent the East in the SEC title game, Florida’s win keeps it contention for a premier BCS bowl.

After Caleb Sturgis’ squib kick ran the final 2 seconds off the clock, the Gators stormed the field in celebration.

“In all my years of playing football, I’ve never seen a touchdown like that,” defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd said. “So I went ballistic.”

Defensive end Dominique Easley was dancing and pumping his fist as other Gators exchanged hugs. Purifoy and Jenkins continued to receive congratulations long after the final whistle.

That the Gators had fallen short of the day’s expectations, squeaking out a seven-point win as four-touchdown favorites, was unimportant. All that mattered was Florida improving to 9-1 and moving within a victory against FCS opponent Jacksonville State of finishing the season undefeated at home.

“A win’s a win,” Muschamp said. “We certain make it interesting.”

For the 10th consecutive game, Florida was outgained in the opening quarter. Both Brissett and starter Jeff Driskel struggled to move the ball through the air against a Ragin’ Cajuns unit that entered the game ranked No. 118 nationally pass defense, and Mike Gillislee gained only 45 yards on the ground.

UF’s defense needed time to adjust to Louisiana’s up-tempo attack, regardless of a clear edge in talent.

Early in the fourth quarter, Louisiana held a four-point lead and had first-and-goal on UF’s 7-yard line.

“If we had scored right there instead of the field goal, the game is probably over,” Louisiana coach Mark Hudspeth said.

But, as it has done all season, the Gators defense stiffened, holding the Ragin’ Cajuns to a field goal. Once again, Florida managed to come out on top.

“It’s a football team that’s finding ways to win games,” Muschamp said. “We certainly shot ourselves in the foot enough in the game. … I know one thing: There’s nobody questioning the character in that room and the resolve and the fight.”

Those qualities were on display in Purifoy. After being flagged for pass interference to set up Louisiana’s first touchdown and committing a holding penalty that helped the Ragin’ Cajuns to a field goal in the fourth quarter, Purifoy bounced back with what he called the biggest play of his life.

“I always tell him, especially when you play corner for us, you better have a short memory,” Muschamp said.

Jenkins called the late score the highlight of his career, and neither Muschamp, Floyd, Jenkins nor Purifoy could recall a similar ending.

Finding unlikely ways to pull off comebacks has been commonplace for UF this season.

“It’s becoming a routine,” Purifoy said. “As long as we get the ‘W.’”

As Muschamp met with Hudspeth near midfield after the game, Louisiana’s coach had a simple message: “Great teams find ways to win games. You’ve got a great football team.”

“I don’t know if I’d stretch it that far,” Muschamp said. “But we’ve got a bunch of guys that are playing together, that are playing for each other. They have a strong belief in each other. They have a strong belief in what we’re doing and where we’re headed. The future’s bright.”

Read more here: http://www.alligator.org/sports/article_921dd442-2ba7-11e2-86f3-001a4bcf887a.html
Copyright 2018 Independent Florida Alligator