Tennessee and Florida get into a fight after the Gators beat the Vols in Gainesville
The final seconds of Florida’s 29-16 win over Tennessee took quite some time in an extremely bizarre sequence of events.
Florida took a timeout and a delay of game ahead of third down with seven seconds remaining. But once the Gators ran the ball and didn’t reach the yard to gain, Josh Heupel took Tennessee’s last timeout with four seconds left.
“That sequence right there, we’re trying to get the ball back,” Heupel said postgame. “We’re trying to take a shot to the end zone. I don’t know if we’re going to have time for an onside and maybe get a shot back.”
Instead of punting, Florida decided to take a knee. Quarterback Graham Mertz bought time in the backfield before taking a knee. Tennessee defensive tackle Omari Thomas was running after Mertz and while he tried to pull up as Mertz took a knee, Thomas shoved him to the ground.
That’s when chaos broke loose between both teams. Players came off each sideline and a brouhaha broke out.
“You’re trying to finish and compete the right way. He (Florida QB Graham Mertz) is dancing around,” Heupel said. “Do you want the targeting? Obviously, not. But he’s dancing around so you have to go tackle the guy too.”
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The officials originally called targeting on Thomas before reviewing it an overturning it. That removal of targeting had no bearings on the Vols loss at Florida but is important because Thomas avoids a suspension for the first half of next week’s game at UTSA.
While Thomas made light contact on Mertz and was not trying to take a cheap shot, the chaos which ensued wasn’t a great look for either team but particularly for Tennessee whose players were trash talking and shoving its opponent at the end of a double-digit loss.
“Do we want to be composed in that situation and all situations? Absolutely,” Heupel said postgame.
While Heupel rightfully defended his team in his postgame press conference, a video from WESH2’s Daren Stoltzfus shows the Vols’ head coach apologize to Florida head coach Billy Napier during their postgame handshake.
It’s unclear what Napier says in response but his face indicates that he wasn’t upset about or placing blame on Heupel for the sequence.
Check out the video of the scuffle here and the video of the postgame handshake below.
Josh Heupel apologizes to Billy Napier as they shake hands after #Gators 29-16 win.#Vols had to come back out of the locker room to take a knee on final play of the game. Tennessee had used their final timeout before Florida’s fourth down kneel down that sparked shoving match pic.twitter.com/EBQFVtdzdj
— Daren Stoltzfus WESH (@DarenStoltzfus) September 17, 2023