The longer the kick, the cooler LSU’s Cade York becomes

Cade York's school-record 57-yard field goal through the fog helped the Tigers beat sixth-ranked Florida 37-34, giving the team a chance to finish the 2020 season on a positive note. Photo by Brad McClenny, The Gainesville Sun

LSU sophomore placekicker Cade York didn’t focus on the thick fog that had enveloped Florida’s Ben Hill Griffin Stadium almost four hours after last Saturday’s kickoff.

He didn’t pause when the then-No. 6 ranked Gators called timeout prior to his game-winning field goal attempt with 23 seconds remaining in a game tied at 34-all.

York maintained a bit of levity through the heart-pounding moment, envisioning a successful kick and then parading around The Swamp performing the Gator Chomp in triumph.

Crazy thing, though, that’s exactly what York did under adverse conditions, sending his 57-yard effort well through the goal posts to cap LSU’s stunning 37-34 victory as a 23½-point underdog.

“All I think about it what happens when I make it,” York said after the game. “What I was thinking about before the kick was running down the field doing the Gator Chomp. I got to do that.”

It was a similar scene York saw on video that played out on the exact same field six years earlier when LSU edged Florida 30-27 on Colby Delahoussaye’s 50-yard field goal with three seconds to play.

Such dramatics immediately elevated York into a rare fraternity of LSU kickers with game-winning feats, some of the same heroes that reached out to him with congratulations after the win over Florida.

One such player commending York for a job well done was former standout kicker Cole Tracy, who kicked the Tigers past Auburn, 22-21, with a 42-yard field goal in 2018 as time expired.

“I’m in a group message with (former LSU punter) Josh Growden and Cole Tracy,” York said. “They congratulated me. I talked to (former LSU kicker now at Nebraska) Connor (Culp) and exchanged texts with Cole. It’s cool to kind of share in the experience that he (Delahoussaye) and Colby and other guys have gotten to have.”

LSU (4-5), which hosts Ole Miss (4-4) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday to close out the 2020 season, still had to hold its breath before exhaling against Florida. The Gators drove down the field for a potential game-tying field goal. But Florida’s Evan McPherson, York’s counterpart, had his 51-yard attempt slide wide left on the game’s final play.

York’s impact was part of a rejuvenated LSU effort enabling the undermanned Tigers to overcome the tall odds of traveling with a 54-man roster and defeating a team which had already earned a trip to play Alabama in the SEC championship after claiming a share of the league’s Eastern Division title.

York went 3-for-3 in field goals against the Gators and was named the SEC’s Special Teams Player of the Week. He nailed a 39-yarder on the final play of the first half for a 24-17 lead and extended his team’s advantage to 27-17 with a 30-yarder at the 8:29 mark of the third quarter.

“For me, everything’s about helping the team win,” York said. “Every kick’s important to me. If I miss a PAT or a field goal, I’m going to be just as upset. I don’t want to go out there and not show well because I have a lot of pride in myself, a little bit of a perfectionist.

“There may have been added pressure in a game that’s close and there’s 30 seconds left in the fourth quarter. But for me in the moment it fades away and I don’t think about that stuff.”

York’s proven adept at kicking the long ball over the course of his career and leads the nation this season among FBS schools with five field goals of 50-plus yards.

The 57-yarder broke Tracy’s two-year-old school record of 54 yards, was the second longest in FBS play this season and ninth-best effort in SEC history.

Because LSU has played an SEC-only schedule, there’ve been fewer scoring opportunities for York, especially after he scored a school-record 152 points with 21 field goals and 89 extra points for the 15-0 2019 national champions.

York has made 14 of 17 field goals, including 7 of his last 8, and has been perfect with 31 of 31 extra points for 73 points,. It has placed him in elite company when he became the seventh kicker in school history to exceed 200 career points. He’s fifth all-time with 225 points and counting.

“I have a strong leg,” York said. “One of the things I’ve really been focusing on is target lines. I feel like when I have a short field goal, I may play it a little too cautious and have a bigger target to aim at. When I’m in long range, I have a smaller target and I’ve kind of let loose. That’s what shows (in) the long range and how I’ve been successful there. It’s something I need to do with all of my field goals and not just the long ones.”

York found himself following in the cleats of Tracy, who enjoyed one of the most successful single seasons in LSU history in 2018 that included the most field goals made (29), most field goals in single game (5) and total points scored kicking (18) in a game.

Two games into his career as a freshman last season, York was in the middle in his first high stakes encounter when No. 6 LSU visited No. 9 Texas which for the native of McKinney, Texas was about 3 ½ hours from his Dallas-area home.

York promptly drilled three field goals of 36, 33 and 40 yards into the teeth of a Darrell K. Royal Stadium crowd of 98,763, helping the Tigers repel the Longhorns in a memorable 45-38 victory.

“That was definitely a confidence booster,” he said. “I was on cloud nine after that.”

That served as a catalyst in a season in which York, who made his first seven field goals of his career, was named to the All-SEC’s second team and the league’s all-freshman unit. He set school records in points scored (152), extra points made (89) and the fourth-highest field goal total (21).

“You come in the year after Cole and he had an amazing year and you see his walk-off field goal, up for the (Lou) Groza (Award) and it’s a little intimidating,” York said. “It’s also a great thing to push me and learn from him.”

Without a spring training and true offseason because of the coronavirus pandemic, York believed he would be this year’s starter going into fall camp which was moved back to accommodate the Sept. 26 start date to the year.

Although York is the team’s lone scholarship kicker, that wasn’t to suggest there wasn’t any competition for the No. 1 job. Walk-on Preston Stafford of Catholic High was also battling for the coveted starting spot, which LSU head coach Ed Orgeron made clear during a news conference during the early portion of the season.

York certainly took notice.

“I went into the year with the mindset of me having the job with a little bit of a transition phase in the summer when I got back,” York said. “I don’t want to peak in the summer. I usually have a little bit of a rough patch and work things out and start to peak once I go through the season. There were times where I was struggling during the season. I can understand why that conversation was being held.”

This season, York made his first six field goals, including a pair of 50-plus yarders, before a 45-yard miss at Missouri on Oct. 10. He followed by making 4 of his next 6 during a span that included a 34-yard miss at Texas A&M in the rain Nov. 28.

York hasn’t missed since and he’s elated with his perfect showing on extra points after missing four last season.

In addition to his school-record field goal, he’s also fourth on LSU’s career list in extra points (120), tied for fifth in field goal percentage (.795) and ninth in made field goals (35).

“Last year I was known for going up and down, I had a lot of learning curves,” York said. “I’ve always been working on not being a rollercoaster and being more of a steady ride.”

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William Weathers

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