2021 Best Game Story: Glenn Guilbeau, USA Today Louisiana

By Glenn Guilbeau

USA TODAY Louisiana

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – On Saturday morning, LSU freshman reserve tight end Kole Taylor had one reception for three yards. 

By late Saturday night, Taylor had the most famous shoe in college football – a size 14 Nike Vapor Edge Pro 360, to be exact, that sells for $120 to $140.

It left a deep footprint all over LSU’s 37-34 upset of No. 6 and 22-point favorite Florida in the fog and mist of The Swamp.

Taylor, the No. 9 tight end in the nation from Central High in Grand Junction, Colorado, finally got some decent playing time. This was because starting tight end Arik Gilbert “opted out” for the rest of the season last week after a 55-17 loss to Alabama that dropped LSU to 3-5.

Taylor had two catches for seven yards going into a third-and-10 play in a 34-34 game with under two minutes to play. Freshman quarterback Max Johnson, who started for the first time, completed a short pass to Taylor, who was stopped by safety Tre’vez Johnson and cornerback Marco Wilson six yards short of the first down.

Florida would have nearly a minute and 30 seconds to attempt a drive for a game-winning field goal if LSU elected to punt. But something happened.

“I saw three flags on the ground,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said. “And I was happy.”

In the process of that tackle, one of Taylor’s Nike Vapor Edge Pro 360s slipped off. Wilson picked it up and threw it more than 20 yards in celebration. Referee James Carter threw a flag for unsportsmanlike conduct. This gave LSU a first down at its 44-yard line with 1:24 to play and another chance.

If Taylor’s laces were tighter, LSU likely would have punted, and Florida could have driven to the winning score. But LSU equipment manager Greg Stringfellow inadvertently took care of that.

“I think it was a great job by Stringfellow of loosening up that shoe before the play,” Orgeron said. “We needed a break, and we got a break.” 

Five plays later, Cade York kicked an LSU-record, 57-yard field goal through the fog with 23 seconds left.

“I didn’t see it go through,” York said. “I lost it in the fog. It went right down the middle, right?”

Florida’s Evan McPherson tried a 51-yard field goal as time expired, but it missed by about a foot left.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been in a game when someone threw a shoe,” Orgeron said. “This can be the building block for turning this team around.”

The Tigers (4-5) have not beaten a larger favorite since 25-point underdog LSU defeated No. 5 Alabama, 17-13, in 1993.

Florida’s chances of a national championship vaporized as that Nike Vapor Edge Pro 360 took flight, and it fell t0 8-2.

“I didn’t see that,” a flustered Florida coach Dan Mullen said. “I don’t know. I guess that’s a penalty. I have no idea what happened. I didn’t see it. Did you guys see it?”

A Florida reporter said, “Yeah, he threw a guy’s shoe.”

“OK,” Mullen said. “They called a penalty on it, so.”

Florida outgained LSU, 609 yards to 418, but struggled in the red zone. Quarterback Kyle Trask completed 29 of 47 for 474 yards and two touchdowns, but he threw two interceptions and fumbled in the first half. One of the interceptions was returned 68 yards for a touchdown by cornerback Eli Ricks for a 14-7 lead in the second quarter. Trask’s fumble with 10 seconds left in the half set up a 39-yard field goal by York for a 24-17 lead.

“All the things we did – you can’t win doing what we did tonight no matter what’s going on or who you’re playing,” Mullen said. “Give them credit. They kind of seemed to make the plays they needed to make to win, and we kind of made every play you needed to lose. We had an easier field goal than they did, and we just missed it. If we score touchdowns in the red zone, we win by three touchdowns.”

Johnson completed 21 of 36 for 239 yards and three touchdowns with zero interceptions while rushing for 52 yards on 18 carries. Tailback Chris Curry gained 64 yards on 17 carries. LSU had no turnovers.

“We got the stop at the end to win the game pretty much, and we get a personal foul,” Mullen said. “We’ve got to make better decisions out there. We had and easier field goal than they did, but we missed it.”

Wilson, a junior from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., was not available after the game to explain his actions, but his father, Chad, tweeted a response.

“The kid feels sick, man,” he said. “He was hyped they got the stop and got caught up in the moment. It sucks that it cost the team. He’ll bounce back. He’s mentally tough.”

So was LSU, which found itself down 31-27 late in the third quarter after back-to-back touchdown drives by the Gators.

“There was a want-to about winning. Like I’ve been saying, we’re building a championship team. And we showed it tonight,” Orgeron said.

“This time, we finally got it,” said senior safety JaCoby Stevens, who may never forget it.

“When we’re 50, 60 years old, we’ll be talking about York kicking that field goal,” he said.

There was a movie called “The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh” in 1979, and now there is “The Shoe That Saved LSU.”

“These moments can never be taken away,” Stevens said.

Said LSU sports information director Michael Bonnette, “We’re going to put that shoe in our Hall of Fame.”

Glenn Guilbeau

USA Today Louisiana

Glenn Guilbeau

AGE: 60

COLLEGE: University of Missouri-Columbia

BACKGROUND: Although Guilbeau won Best Game Story this year for a story he wrote for USA Today Louisiana, he recently left that organization to become the SEC columnist for the OutKick website (www.outkick.com).

Guilbeau has won first place in the FWAA Best Writing Contest three times previously: 2017 for Best Column,  2016 for Best Game Story and 2001 for the former Loose Deadline category.

Guilbeau placed in three categories in the 2021 APSE writing contest – beat writing, explanatory story and game story. He also recently was named beat writer of the year by the Louisiana Sports Writers’ Association contest for coverage of LSU in 2020.

A native of New Orleans, Guilbeau has covered college football for 30-plus years at Tiger Rag Magazine in Baton Rouge (1983-85), the Montgomery Advertiser (1985-86), the Alexandria Town Talk (1987-93), the Mobile Register (1993-98), the Baton Rouge Advocate (1998-2004) and, since 2004, at USA Today Louisiana.