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Saturday November 4, 2006Football Defeats Vanderbilt, 25-19, Clinches SEC East Title

Nashville, TN

Senior quarterback Chris Leak (Charlotte, N.C.) ran for two touchdowns and Florida’s special teams blocked two punts as the seventh-ranked Gators (8-1, 6-1 Southeastern Conference) defeated Vanderbilt, 25-19, on Saturday. UF’s win, coupled with Tennessee’s 28-24 loss to LSU later in the evening, clinched the SEC Eastern Division for the Gators.

 

The SEC East title is Florida’s ninth since the league went to divisional play in 1992, and the school’s first since tying for the division lead in 2003. The Gators’ last outright SEC East crown came in 2000, when they beat Auburn, 28-6, in the SEC Championship Game and advanced to the Sugar Bowl to face Miami (Fla.).

 

UF’s special teams set the tone for the day on the game’s first series, as junior cornerback Ryan Smith (Diamond Bar, Calif.) blocked a Commodores’ punt and senior cornerback Jermaine McCollum (Miami, Fla.) recovered the ball on the Vanderbilt six-yard line. On second and goal from the four-yard line, Leak plunged into the end zone for his first score of the day. After a botched snap on the extra-point attempt, sophomore holder Butch Rowley (Orlando, Fla.) scrambled to his right and found junior tight end Tate Casey (Longview, Texas) in the back of the end zone for a two-point conversion that gave the Gators an 8-0 lead.

 

Vanderbilt answered with a seven-play, 90-yard drive that resulted in a 13-yard scoring run by junior running back Cassen Jackson-Garrison with just over six minutes remaining in the first quarter. The Commodores elected to try to tie the score, but junior safety Tony Joiner (Haines City, Fla.) batted away the pass on the two-point conversion, and the score remained 8-6 in favor of Florida heading into the second period.

 

The second quarter belonged to the Gators, as they extended their lead to 15-6 on a 14-yard touchdown grab by senior wide receiver Dallas Baker (New Smyrna Beach, Fla.) with just over 12 minutes remaining in the first half. Junior safety Reggie Nelson (Melbourne, Fla.) also blocked the second punt of the day, and his second of the season, for UF, and Smith picked up his SEC-leading sixth interception of the year, in the second frame. Florida took a 15-6 advantage into the break.

 

After Vanderbilt missed a field goal with a little more than nine minutes to play in the third quarter, UF embarked on a three-play, 69-yard drive that culminated with Leak’s second rushing touchdown of the afternoon, a four-yard scamper through the middle of the Commodores’ defense. Senior kicker Chris Hetland (Leesburg, Ga.) connected on a 29-yard field goal near the end of the period to extend the Gators’ lead to 25-6 heading into the fourth quarter.

 

Vanderbilt sophomore quarterback Chris Nickson hooked up with sophomore wide receiver George Smith on a 10-yard touchdown pass early in the final period, but Smith knocked away the pass attempt on the two-point conversion to keep the score at 25-12. The Commodores added a late touchdown on a pass from Nickson to sophomore wide receiver Earl Bennett to cut the lead to six points, but Baker recovered the ensuing onside kick to seal the 25-19 win for Florida.

 

Leak finished the game 18-of-25 through the air for 237 yards and a touchdown, while senior running back DeShawn Wynn (Cincinnati, Ohio) collected 64 rushing yards on 15 carries.  Baker led the Gators with seven receptions for 135 yards, giving him an average of 19.3 yards per catch and moving him past the 2,000 career yard-mark with a total of 2,047. His yardage total against Vanderbilt marked the third time this season he has eclipsed the 100-yard mark, and the sixth time in his career has topped 100 yards through the air.

 

In addition to his conference-leading sixth interception and his second blocked punt of the campaign, Smith led the Gators with a career-high 11 tackles. His 10 solo stops were the most unassisted tackles by a Florida player this season. Sophomore defensive end Derrick Harvey (Greenbelt, Md.) notched his SEC-leading eighth sack in the effort, and junior linebacker Brandon Siler (Orlando, Fla.) and junior defensive end Jarvis Moss (Denton, Texas) each contributed one sack to the UF cause. Harvey’s five total tackles marked a new career best, while Moss tied his career high with seven stops.

 

Nickson was 27-of-44 for a career-high 298 yards and two touchdowns for Vanderbilt. Jackson-Garrison paced the Commodores with 43 rushing yards, while Bennett caught a game-high 13 passes for 157 yards. Junior linebacker Jonathan Goff had nine tackles, a sack and an interception to headline the Commodores’ defensive effort.

 

The Gators will return home on Nov. 11 for a tilt with SEC-rival South Carolina at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Kickoff time for the game has yet to be announced. Visit www.gatorzone.com for more information.

 

Gator fans needing travel accommodations can call Total Sports Travel today to reserve your SEC Championship package at 888-367-8781. Fans can also pre-register for bowl games, and be the first on the list for bowl package information and booking. Total Sports Travel is the Official Travel Partner of the Gator Boosters and the UF Alumni Association.

 

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