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Goal-line stand provides vindication for Jim McElwain, Florida

Florida celebration after LSU win at Tiger Stadium
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY Sports

Three ticks and a yard were all that stood between them and a walk-off goal-line stand for the ages. Or heartbreak.

You could almost hear the palpitations of Gator Nation’s heart collectively thumping. This kind of tension maybe hadn’t been felt by so many Gators fans since the dawning of the second era of Florida football, Two Score and Six 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.
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 seemed to rally.

“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 LSU fullback J.D. Moore going to his right in motion and then back to his left, Tigers quarterback Danny Etling took the snap and pivoted, as if expecting to see running back Derrius Guice there. Inexplicably, Guice wasn’t where he was supposed to be.

There was an awkward pitch, 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 Nos. 93 and 17 and 26 in orange stoned Guice.

No. 26, by the way, was safety Marcell Harris, playing because sure-tackling Marcus Maye broke his arm and was lost for the season. Harris was the guy who made early contact with Guice, along with end 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 inadvertently was listed as “6-11” instead of 6-1. On Saturday at the goal line, with the season riding on one last snap, he looked 10 feet tall as he unfolded from a mass of gold pants.

1 yard for glory

I’ve been watching Gators 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 Gators players and a former coach.

“No, never,” said the 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. 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 Gators quarterback who coaches high school football thought it looked a bit like a busted play and wondered if Etling had turned the wrong way or if Guice had run to the wrong side. Afterward, LSU interim coach Ed Orgeron said Guice indeed had gone to the wrong side.

It was much deeper than that, though.

Resentment had boiled over since the October 8 postponement of the game because of Hurricane Matthew when it was suggested that the Gators were “scared” of LSU. Unfriendly negotiations took place and, finally, it was outgoing Florida AD Jeremy Foley who capitulated, agreeing to play in Baton Rouge this season in exchange for LSU playing in 2017 and 2018 in Gainesville.

Spurrier, watching from home in Florida in near disbelief, said he’d never seen anything like it either.

“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,” Spurrier said.

Outright disrespect can incite a powerful reaction.

“They insulted us. Are we going to lay down or smack them in the mouth?” Scarlett asked.

“They got what they deserved,” McElwain said.

And McElwain deserved better.

Idiots like me predicted his team would lose, maybe even big. Even bigger idiots were calling for his head.

I may have made a stupid prediction, but Clay Travis gets the award for the dumbest tweet of the year.

You could see the smoke steaming out of McElwain’s ears in his post-game comments.

“They were called out. And you know what amazes me?” he said. “People call people out when there’s actual tragedy happening. Unbelievable to me.”

(You can follow Buddy Martin on Twitter @BuddyShow)

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