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Saturday September 30, 2006No. 5 Football Rallies Past Alabama, 28-13

Gainesville, FL

The fifth-ranked Gator football team improved to 5-0 overall and 3-0 in the Southeastern Conference on Saturday afternoon with a 28-13 victory over Alabama (3-2/1-2 SEC). A crowd of 90,671 fans were on hand at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, the third-largest crowd in school history, as Florida unveiled its Ring of Honor in a special pre-game ceremony that honored Gator legends Emmitt Smith, Steve Spurrier, Danny Wuerffel and Jack Youngblood. The Gators have now won 12 games in a row at The Swamp, matching the sixth-longest streak in school history.


Senior quarterback Chris Leak (Charlotte, N.C.) was 14-of-20 for 174 yards and threw a pair of touchdown passes as UF overcame a 10-0, second-quarter deficit. Junior cornerback Ryan Smith (Diamond Bar, Calif.) matched his career high with two interceptions for 30 yards, while junior safety Reggie Nelson (Melbourne, Fla.) raced 70 yards with an interception with 4:19 remaining in the game to finalize the 15-point margin.


Alabama opened the scoring with 2:47 left in the first quarter when freshman linebacker Prince Hall recovered a Leak fumble at midfield and ran it in for a 50-yard touchdown. Following an 18-yard rush up the middle by UA sophomore quarterback John Parker Wilson in the second quarter, junior Jamie Christensen kicked a 21-yard field goal for a 10-point Crimson Tide advantage. 


With Florida facing a 3rd and 3 late in the second quarter, Leak scampered 45 yards down to Alabama's three-yard line. The run was the longest of Leak's career and the longest by a Gator quarterback since 1996. Freshman quarterback Tim Tebow (Jacksonville, Fla.) finished off the 12-play, 95-yard drive with a two-yard rush and senior Chris Hetland (Leesburg, Ga.) tacked on the extra point for a 10-7 margin with 1:45 left in the half.


The next two scoring chances ended in missed field goals by each team. The Tide’s Christensen was short on a 51-yard field goal on the final play of the half, while Hetland misfired on a 36-yarder on Florida's opening drive of the second half.


The Gators seized the lead with 2:39 left in the third stanza when Leak connected with junior Andre Caldwell (Tampa, Fla.) on a 16-yard scoring toss. Senior wide receiver Jemalle Cornelius (Fort Meade, Fla.) helped set up the go-ahead tally with two lengthy receptions in a row. The first, a 22-yarder down to the 38-yard line, was followed by a 26-yard grab to Alabama's 12-yard line. Two plays later, Leak threaded a screen pass to Caldwell down the right sideline and the receiver stretched the ball just past the pylon to put the home team in front. Hetland's second PAT of the afternoon capped the seven-play, 80-yard scoring drive.


The Crimson Tide countered on its next possession with a 26-yard field goal by Christensen with 12:47 left in the game to trim the deficit to 14-13. Alabama moved 54 yards on 12 plays in 4:52 to pull closer. After UA forced the Gators to punt on their next possession, Smith notched his second interception of the contest when he picked off Wilson at the 35-yard line. Although Smith fumbled, the ball was recovered by Nelson. With Florida facing a key 3rd and 4 situation, Leak found senior wide receiver Dallas Baker (New Symrna Beach, Fla.) for a 21-yard touchdown. The TD reception was Baker's fifth of the campaign, matching his season high from both 2004 and 2005. The three-play, 34-yard drive and the extra point from Hetland put the Orange and Blue ahead, 21-13, with 6:47 showing on the clock. 


With Alabama at UF's 46-yard line, Nelson sealed the victory with a brilliant 70-yard interception return for a touchdown to give the hosts a 28-13 lead with 4:19 remaining in the game. On the night, Florida's defense totaled three interceptions and notched three sacks. Junior strong safety Tony Joiner (Haines City, Fla.) finished with six solo tackles, while junior defensive end Jarvis Moss (Denton Texas) had five solo tackles and 1.5 sacks for a net loss of 13 yards.


Caldwell had a team-high five receptions for 33 yards and one touchdown, while Cornelius had four catches for 79 yards. Senior DeShawn Wynn (Cincinnati, Ohio) gained 50 yards on 12 carries to lead UF in rushing for the third-straight game. Tebow carried nine times for 28 yards and completed his lone passing attempt for a 23-yard gain. For Alabama, Wilson was 21-of-40 for 240 yards and three interceptions, senior Kenneth Darby gained 76 yards on 14 carries and junior DJ Hall totaled a game-high six receptions for 117 yards.


The Gators will return to action next weekend for their annual Homecoming game at The Swamp against Western Division rival LSU (4-1/1-1 SEC). The game will be carried nationally on CBS Sports starting at 3:30 p.m.




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