GAINESVILLE, Fla. — No. 7 Florida staved off one huge upset and now will be pulling for another.
Jelani Jenkins returned a blocked punt 36 yards for a touchdown with 2 seconds remaining, capping the comeback and giving the Gators a 27-20 victory against Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday.
Now, Florida can sit back and root for Auburn to beat Georgia. If the Tigers win, the Gators would clinch the Southeastern Conference’s Eastern Division and a spot in the league title game.
No one, though, was thinking about that game late in this one.
Florida (9-1) did little on offense most of the day and looked to be in serious trouble when quarterback Jeff Driskel left the game with an ankle injury.
The Rajin’ Cajuns (5-4) led 20-13 after Alonzo Harris’ 2-yard run and a blocked punt for a touchdown. But Florida backup Jacoby Brissett rallied the Gators. He 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 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 Brett Baer’s punt. Jenkins picked up the deflection and went untouched the other way.
Florida players and coaches erupted on the sideline, knowing the significance of the situation.
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. Louisiana-Lafayette was a 27-point underdog, was paid $950,000 to be Florida’s homecoming opponent and hadn’t been a ranked team in 16 years.
That didn’t matter at Florida Field, where the Rajin’ Cajuns played smart and waited for the Gators to self-destruct.
Florida was flagged 10 times for 79 yards, including two costly ones on ULL’s lone touchdown 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. Reed got the ball on an end around and floated it to the sideline, but Burton couldn’t haul it in, and Florida settled for a field goal and a 13-3 lead.