GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Louisiana-Lafayette coach Mark Hudspeth wanted his players to watch No. 7 Florida’s wild, postgame celebration.
Not so they would remember the gut-wrenching feeling of the meltdown.
But so they would realize how close they came to pulling off one the biggest upset in the history of both programs.
“Any time you see the seventh-ranked team in the country storm the field like they won the Super Bowl to beat you, you know you’re doing some good things,” Hudspeth said.
The Gators (9-1) scored twice in the final 2 minutes, including once on a blocked punt as the final seconds ticked off the clock, to beat Louisiana-Lafayette 27-20 on Saturday.
The Ragin’ Cajuns (5-4) were 27-point underdogs, were paid $950,000 to be Florida’s homecoming opponent and hadn’t beaten a ranked team in 16 years.
None of that mattered at Florida Field, where ULL played smart and waited for the Gators to self-destruct.
It worked perfectly — at least until that frantic finish.
Florida did little on offense most of the day and looked to be in serious trouble when quarterback Jeff Driskel left the game with a sprained right ankle.
Louisiana-Lafayette led 17-13 in the third quarter after Alonzo Harris’ 2-yard run and a blocked punt for a touchdown on the ensuing drive. Brett Baer’s 22-yard field goal — considered a huge stand for Florida’s defense — made it 20-13 early in the fourth.
But backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett rallied the Gators. After a shaky start that included two sacks and a near interception in his first four throws, Brissett found tight end Jordan Reed down the middle for a 39-yard gain and then hit Quinton Dunbar for 3-yard score with 1:42 remaining.
ULL was content to run out the clock and play for overtime.
Loucheiz Purifoy had other thoughts.
One of Florida’s fastest players, Purifoy sprinted off the edge and got his right hand on Baer’s punt with about 7 seconds left. Jenkins picked up the deflection and went untouched the other way.
“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 said. “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.”
Florida players and coaches erupted on the sideline, knowing the significance of the situation.
“It’s sad, disappointing,” Harris said. “It hurts knowing we could have won a game that slipped through our fingers.”
Players questioned Hudspeth’s late-game decision to play for OT on the road.
With the game tied at 20 and 1:40 remaining, the Ragin’ Cajuns ran three times before the fateful punt.
“There is a lot of pain in the locker room, because we knew that we had that game in our hands and we let it slip away,” receiver Bradley Brown said. “The thing that we didn’t understand was why we didn’t go for it with a minute and 40 seconds left on the clock, because we are a two-minute team.”
The Gators were coming off eight consecutive games against SEC foes and were supposed to get a break against a middle-of-the-pack team from the Sun Belt Conference.
No such luck.
Harris ran 20 times for 68 yards. Terrance Broadway completed 16 of 23 passes for 171 yards and was sacked just once against Florida’s vaunted front.
Florida, meanwhile, was its own worst enemy.
The Gators were flagged 10 times for 79 yards, including two costly ones on ULL’s lone TD drive. Lerentee McCray was penalized for being off side on a third-down play that likely would have forced a punt, and Purifoy was called pass interference on another third-down pass.
Those came on the heels on Clay Burton’s dropped pass in the end zone early in the third. Florida settled for a field goal to go up 13-3.
The lead seemed safe considering it was about how Florida has played all season.
The Ragin’ Cajuns refused to go along with the plan.
“We fought our butts off,” Broadway said. “There was never one second, one minute, one hour that we didn’t believe we were coming to win this game. We honestly believed we were going to win this game, and that’s how we played. I’m really proud of our guys.”
Copyright © 2014, Capital City Press LLC • 7290 Bluebonnet Blvd., Baton Rouge, LA 70810 • All Rights Reserved