GatorZone.com Senior Writer
And on Saturday afternoon, with 13 ticks left on the clock, Florida’s punt-block unit prepared to lift a black cloud that surprisingly hung over The Swamp and darkened the mood of Florida fans inside expecting an easy Homecoming win over Louisiana.
In an attempt to make something happen, special- teams coordinator D.J. Durkin called up Black, a formation and personnel grouping designed for a simple reason: to block a punt.
“He called Black and I came off the edge,’’ said Gators cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy. “I ain’t Chris Rainey, but that’s what he did.”
Rainey, now a rookie with the Steelers, was a kick-block specialist in his time with the Gators, leaving as the school’s all-time leader with six career blocked kicks.
Purifoy got his first career block in last week’s win over Missouri when he blocked a field goal. His first career blocked punt Saturday was even better. It’s a play that will live in Gator lore considering the circumstances and dark potential that loomed over an otherwise sunny day.
“I felt very good about what D.J. had for a block,’’ Gators coach Will Muschamp said. “Turns out it worked out well for us.”
You could say that. Purifoy raced in from the left side of the Gators’ front, darted toward Louisiana punter Brett Baer, and stuck out his right hand. Baer’s punt clipped Purifoy’s hand and landed directly into the hands of Florida linebacker Jelani Jenkins.
Jenkins has been hampered by a hamstring injury for much of the season that has caused him to miss significant playing time. Jenkins felt no pain Saturday as he raced 36 yards to the end zone for the game-winning touchdown in Florida’s 27-20 escape against the Ragin’ Cajuns.
“That was a great play by Loucheiz,” Jenkins said. “They executed it perfectly and I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. It came right to me and I just tried to run as fast as I could. It was a lot of open field and I had a lot of blockers. I was pretty sure [I could score a touchdown].”
In a season of unexpected surprises, the No. 7-ranked Gators pulled off perhaps the biggest of all Saturday, scoring 14 unanswered points in the game’s final minute and 42 seconds to improve to 9-1.
Once again, the win wasn’t pretty, but the ending turned into a classic piece of art in the eyes of the Gators.
“We certainly make it interesting,’’ Florida coach Will Muschamp said. “It’s a football team that’s finding ways to win games. We certainly shot ourselves in the foot enough in the game to put it in that situation.
“To win the game in that fashion is certainly a credit to our character and to our kids and where we are headed with the program. Obviously we have things that we need to work on.”
The list of items the Gators can work on is long.
The offense continues to sputter along at times until a big play comes along such as Jordan Reed’s 39-yard reception on Florida’s game-tying drive. And there are still way too many penalties (10 for 79 yards Saturday) for Muschamp to stomach without an antacid. The battered offensive line, playing without regular starters Xavier Nixon and James Wilson and key reserve Ian Silberman (he left game due to shoulder injury), gave up five more sacks.
Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel joined the injury report Saturday when he suffered an ankle sprain in the third quarter and did not return. Jacoby Brissett came in and threw a touchdown pass to Quinton Dunbar with 1:42 remaining that appeared to set up overtime against the Ragin’ Cajuns until their upset bid turned black.
After Brissett’s scoring pass to Dunbar, Louisiana took over at its 27 with no timeouts left. Instead of trying to drive into field-goal range, Ragin’ Cajuns coach Mark Hudspeth opted to play it safe and run out the clock to go to overtime.
However, sitting on two timeouts to burn, the Gators called one and were able to stop the clock with 13 seconds left to send a wave of Black toward Baer as he punted. That’s all they needed to work a little more of their magic and save themselves from what would have been a disappointing loss.
“In all my years of playing football I’ve never seen a play like that,’’ Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd said of the climatic ending.
When the game was over after a tackle by Florida’s Josh Evans on the ensuing kickoff, the Gators celebrated and returned to a lively locker room knowing they dodged a bullet.
As Muschamp and Hudspeth shook hands at midfield, Hudspeth told Muschamp that great teams find a way to win.
“I don’t know if I’d stretch it that far,’’ Muschamp said of the great label. “But we’ve got a bunch of guys playing together and playing for each other. The future is bright. I told the guys how proud I was to be their head football coach. I mean that. You are a reflection of your football team.”
That reflection right now is exactly the one Muschamp envisioned when he took over. The Gators are a defensive-oriented, blue-collar, grind-it-out, win-ugly-if-that’s-what-it-takes team.
They are old-school and played like one Saturday in the orange uniforms the Gators last wore in Muschamp’s debut to open last season against Florida Atlantic.
Fans don’t always like what they see for the entire 60 minutes, but nine out of 10 times this season the Gators have liked the final results. The nine wins are the most for the Gators since their 13-1 season in 2009.
“We’re a hard-fighting team. We’ll never give up,’’ Jenkins said. “That’s one thing I can definitely say about us.”
Purifoy, who has quickly developed into one of the most dangerous players on the roster, epitomizes so much of what Muschamp talks about when describing what he wants the Gators to be.
“He’s a competitor,’’ Jenkins said of his teammate. “He doesn’t like to lose at all. He’s a gifted athlete, but I think the main thing is he is a competitor.”
Purifoy said he is not the only one. He is just one of them.
“We hate losing,’’ Purifoy said. “We overcome adversity. That’s what we do.”
And once again, the Gators proved they do that well. A play called Black turned a potential dark day into a bright one as the Homecoming crowd departed The Swamp for home.