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Franks gets ‘chills’ watching Tennessee-Florida ending

September 18, 2018

FILE - In this Sept. 16, 2017, file photo, Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks (13) celebrates with fans after he threw a 63-yard touchdown pass as time expired to defeat Tennessee 26-20 in an NCAA college football game, in Gainesville, Fla. Franks still gets goosebumps every time he sees a replay. (AP Photo/John Raoux, File)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks gets goosebumps every time he sees the replay.

The throw. The catch. The celebration.

Franks’ 63-yard touchdown pass to Tyrie Cleveland on the final play stunned Tennessee 26-20 last season and secured a spot in rivalry lore forever.

The completion is a big part of the conversation this week as the teams prepare to play in Knoxville, Tennessee. It elicits positive memories on one side and frustrating flashbacks on the other.

“It still gives me chills when I see it,” Franks said. “It was something that seemed unreal. ... That was really cool.”

The play ended up being relatively meaningless in a series with so much history. Florida parted ways with coach Jim McElwain six weeks later and finished with four wins for the second time in five years; Tennessee fired coach Butch Jones two weeks after McElwain’s departure and went winless in Southeastern Conference play.

With new staffs in place, the Volunteers (2-1) and Gators (2-1, 0-1 SEC) both could use a victory Saturday to bolster rebuilding efforts.

Nonetheless, the longest pass of Franks’ college career remains his most notable accomplishment in two seasons.

“Hopefully there’s a lot more good plays to come,” Franks said. “This is definitely one of the tops for now.”

The third-year sophomore has completed 53 percent of his passes this season for 570 yards, with nine touchdowns, two interceptions and three sacks. The nine TD passes in three games match his total from 2017.

Coach Dan Mullen calls it a step forward . But he’s also quick to point out Franks’ flaws, specifically that he’s a little slow processing information and getting from one read to the next.

Mullen insists it will come with more repetitions. After all, Franks has started just three games in Mullen’s offensive system.

“The first time you see something or do something, it’s like, ‘Wow,’ because it happens fast,” Mullen said. “There’s a lot of things that have to happen in the 10 seconds between the time he calls the play and the ball is snapped. And then there’s another whole list of things that have to happen anywhere from 1.8 to 2.5 seconds he has before he throws it. So the more experience you have, the more comfort you have with those things. The more you see it, the easier it is to do.”

Franks looked at ease throwing to Cleveland on the final play against Tennessee last September.

With 9 seconds remaining and the game tied at 20, Florida was at its 37-yard line and needed to pick up about 25 yards to safely reach field-goal range for strong-legged kicker Eddy Pineiro.

Franks dropped back, eluded linebacker Jonathan Kongbo’s rush and diving tackle, scrambled toward the right hash marks, stopped, set his feet and heaved the ball nearly 70 yards. Cleveland had slipped behind safety Micah Abernathy and was running full stride as he cradled the catch with two hands in the middle of the end zone while falling to the ground.

“As a competitor, I’ve watched it multiple times,” Abernathy said this week. “I try to see what I could do differently. That’s just the competitive edge any player’s going to have.”

Mullen talked to his players about that game during the offseason, pointing out it never should have come down to the final play. Florida led 20-10 with less than 5 minutes to play before giving up two scoring drives.

“The point of emphasis is don’t get in that situation,” Florida receiver Josh Hammond said. “Put the game away when you have the chance and you don’t have to worry about throwing a Hail Mary to win the game.”

Franks has watched the ending countless times since, just not lately. Still, he smiles every time it’s mentioned.

“It’s pretty good,” he said.

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