It’s Sunday, March 15, 2015, at approximately 3:45 p.m.
The first weekend of A11 Football League play is coming to a close with its fourth game in three days – Texas at Florida. After plenty of fanfare and pomp and circumstance pre-game, culminating in A11FL Commissioner Scott McKibben bringing the two teams’ captains to midfield for the inaugural coin toss, the two teams got down to business.
Texas spoiled the Florida party early thanks to veteran quarterback Vince Young turning in a performance reminiscent of his 2006 Rose Bowl National Championship Game effort. Lining up in shotgun with backup quarterback Graham Harrell, Young ran for an 11-yard touchdown on a sweep, then he ran a sprint option and pitched to ex-Canadian Football League tailback Brandon Whitaker for a 20-yard score and threw a 55-yard screen-and-run score to fellow ex-Longhorn Jordan Shipley for a 21-0 lead by the middle of the second quarter.
The partisan Florida crowd was stunned, but not deterred.
Why? Because it still had Tim Tebow on its side.
The strong-willed Florida signal-caller never wavered, and started to bring his team back. At the end of the first half, Tebow, making his much-anticipated return to professional football, shrugged off Texas linebacker/defensive end Sergio Kindle, himself making a return to pro ball, and scrambled five yards to cut the halftime deficit to 21-7.
After a scoreless third quarter, Tebow and Florida made it a 21-14 game when he found running back Chris Rainey in the flat for a 7-yard touchdown pass. On the next series, Young was intercepted by former Central Florida and CFL standout cornerback Joe Burnett, who returned the ball 66 yards for the tying score.
But just as Florida fans were whipped into a frenzy, Texas return man Quan Cosby quieted them with a 70-yard kickoff return which set up a 41-yard field goal by ex-UTEP strong-legged kicker Jose Martinez.
Down 24-21, this sets up Tebow for yet another comeback with 3:22 left in the game.
Starting at the 15-yard line after a block in the back on the kickoff return, Tebow runs an option to his right for a gain of eight yards. But then…
- 2nd-and-2, Florida 23 – Tebow misses wide receiver Carlton Mitchell on an out pattern.
- 3rd-and-2, Florida 23 – A false start costs Florida five yards.
- 3rd-and-7, Florida 18 – Tebow goes through his progressions, then scrambles to find Rainey on the sideline for a 10-yard pass and a first down.
Rainey gains five yards on a draw play, and Florida uses its last time out with 2:17 left in regulation. On 2nd-and-5 from the Florida 33, Tebow and Mitchell connect for a 30-yard pass down the left seam, and at the two-minute warning, Florida is in business at the Texas 37-yard line.
Tebow comes out of the timeout with a handoff to ex-Detroit Lion Kevin Smith, who only gains three yards to the Texas 34. But Texas then is able to slow down Florida’s momentum when outside linebacker Brandon Williams, an ex-Dallas Cowboy fourth-round pick, sacks Tebow for a 7-yard loss.
Faced with a 3rd-and-14 from the Texas 41 and with time dwindling, Tebow dials up a pass, only to see the protection break down. He steps up, takes off, dodges one, then two, then three defenders, reaches out and…gets the first down on a 15-yard run to the Texas 26!
After spiking the ball to stop the clock with 59 seconds to go in regulation, Tebow finds veteran wideout Jabar Gaffney for an 8-yard out to stop the clock, then Roscoe Parrish for 5 yards out of bounds.
Florida has the ball 1st-and-10 at the Texas 13 with 48 seconds to go. Tebow calls two plays in the huddle, the first being an option right to Rainey, who gets the pitch and gains eight yards, but can’t get out of bounds. The offense hurriedly gets to the line to run the second play, which ends up being a fade-pattern to Parrish…TOUCHDOWN FLORIDA!
With 27 seconds left, Florida leads 28-24.
That doesn’t give Young much time for a comeback, and a field goal does no good. And after Cosby gets to the 24-yard line on the ensuing kickoff, there’s just 22 seconds to go. Young finds Shipley for back-to-back 12-yard gains, one out-of-bounds and one inbounds, which forces Texas to use its last timeout.
From its own 48 and with just 12 seconds left, Young tries to complete another out pattern, only to see Burnett step in the way of the pass, clutch it and go out of bounds to clinch the Florida win.
Tebow comes out one more time, takes a knee, and the game – the first A11FL contest in the state of Florida – is over.
One A11FL thriller is in the books – with many more in the years to come!