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Sunday September 17, 2006Football Rallies To Defeat Tennessee, 21-20

Knoxville, TN

The No. 7 University of Florida football team rallied from a 17-7 second-half deficit to defeat the 13th-ranked Tennessee Volunteers, 21-20, on Saturday night in front of 106,818 people at Neyland Stadium. The Gators (3-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) were led by senior quarterback Chris Leak (Charlotte, N.C.), whose three touchdown passes proved to be the difference as UF won their SEC opener for the second consecutive year.


After Tennessee capped their opening possession of the second half with a one-yard touchdown run by Montario Hardesty to make the score 17-7, Leak and company began to march back. The senior quarterback took Florida on an eight-play, 72-yard drive that ate 3:40 of game time and culminated with a four-yard scoring strike from Leak to senior wide receiver Dallas Baker (New Smyrna Beach, Fla.), cutting the Volsí lead to 17-14.


Tennessee kicker James Wilhoit added a 51-yard field goal on Tennesseeís next series, pushing the lead back up to 20-14, but kicked the ball out of bounds on the ensuing kickoff to give the Gators the ball at the their own 35-yard line. Senior running back DeShawn Wynn (Cincinnati, Ohio) got the drive off to a good start, breaking off a 26-yard run after a key block from senior fullback Billy Latsko (Gainesville, Fla.). Three plays later, UF found itself facing a fourth-and-one situation with 7:53 left on the clock. Head coach Urban Meyer called on freshman quarterback Tim Tebow (Jacksonville, Fla.), who ran up the middle for two yards and the first down. After a Wynn run, Leak connected with Baker on a 21-yard touchdown pass that tied the game at 20-20. The extra point from senior kicker Chris Hetland (Leesburg, Ga.) gave the Gators a 21-20 lead that would prove to be the final margin.


Junior linebacker Brandon Siler (Orlando, Fla.) came up with his first sack of the season on the Volsí last drive, forcing Tennessee into what would become a fourth-and-16 situation from Floridaís 45-yard line. Silerís classmate, junior cornerback Reggie Nelson (Melbourne, Fla.), sealed the UF victory when he intercepted Tennessee quarterback Erik Ainge for the second time in the game.


Florida jumped out to an early 7-0 lead on a 21-yard touchdown pass from Leak to senior wide receiver Jemalle Cornelius (Fort Meade, Fla.) with 6:35 left in the first quarter. The scoring catch was Corneliusí second of the season. Tennessee would get on the board with a 36-yard field goal in the first quarter and add a 48-yard touchdown pass from wide receiver Lucas Taylor to running back LaMarcus Coker to take a 10-7 lead into halftime.


Leak finished the night 15-of-25 passing with 199 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. Wynn led the Gatorsí ground attack with 104 yards on a career-high 22 carries, marking the fourth time in his career he has gone over the century mark, and also caught two passes for 13 yards. Wynn is the first opposing player to rush for 100 yards or more against Tennessee in 14 games. Baker and junior wide receiver Andre Caldwell (Tampa, Fla.) tied for the team lead in receptions with four, while Baker paced the team with 54 receiving yards and a pair of touchdowns.


Ainge was 17-of-32 for 183 yards for the game, and also threw two interceptions. Jayson Swain caught six passes for 77 yards to lead Tennesseeís receivers corps, and wideout Robert Meachem chipped in with four grabs.


The Florida defense held the Vols to minus-11 yards on the ground, including just 14 yards on 17 carries from Hardesty, the teamís starting tailback. Senior linebacker Earl Everett (Webster, Fla.) made a team-high 11 tackles, while senior defensive tackle Marcus Thomas (Jacksonville, Fla.) collected his team-leading third sack of the year. Nelson collected interceptions on Tennesseeís first and last offensive plays of the night to record the first two-pick game of his Florida career.


The Gators will be in action again on Saturday, Sept. 23, when they take on SEC foe Kentucky at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Kickoff is set for 7:45 p.m. and the game will air on ESPN.






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