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Saturday December 2, 2006No. 4 Football Claims Seventh SEC Title With 38-28 Win Over No. 8 Arkansas

Atlanta, GA

The fourth-ranked University of Florida football team (12-1, 7-1 Southeastern Conference) got second-half touchdowns on a muffed punt, a 67-yard run and a pass from a wide receiver en route to defeating No. 8 Arkansas, 38-28, to win its seventh SEC title. The victory gave the Gators their 12th win of the campaign, matching the school record that was set in both 1995 and 1996.

 

With UF trailing 21-17 late in the third quarter, Arkansas sophomore Reggie Fish fumbled a punt after trying to field it over his shoulder inside the Razorbacks’ five-yard line, allowing freshman cornerback Wondy Pierre-Louis (Naples, Fla.) to pounce on the ball in the endzone for a touchdown that gave Florida a 24-21 lead. After the Gator defense forced an Arkansas punt, freshman wide receiver Percy Harvin (Virginia Beach, Va.) took off on a career-long 67-yard touchdown run on Florida’s first play of the fourth quarter, widening the lead to 31-21.

 

The Hogs quickly cut the margin back to three points, at 31-28, when senior wide receiver Cedric Washington hit sophomore running back Felix Jones for a 29-yard touchdown on a double pass with 12:29 left to play. Florida, however, would strike back on its next drive, marching down the field on a eight-play, 80-yard drive that culminated in a five-yard touchdown pass from junior wide receiver Andre Caldwell (Tampa, Fla.) to junior tight end Tate Casey (Longview, Texas) to reach the eventual winning score of 38-28.

 

Junior safety Reggie Nelson (Melbourne, Fla.) and junior cornerback Ryan Smith (Diamond Bar, Calif.) sealed Florida’s win with fourth-quarter interceptions, with Smith’s coming in his own endzone on Arkansas’ final drive. The pair now has a nation-leading 14 combined interceptions on the year, as well as six combined picks against top-25 opponents.

 

UF got on the scoreboard first via a 33-yard field goal by senior Chris Hetland (Leesburg, Ga.), and took a 3-0 lead into the second period. Sophomore running back Kestahn Moore (Arlington, Texas) ripped off a 28-yard run, and Harvin chipped in with an 11-yard jaunt, on the drive that led to the game’s opening score.

 

Florida’s lead was still 3-0 with just over nine minutes left to play in the first half when freshman wide receiver Jarred Fayson (Tampa, Fla.) blocked an Arkansas punt, which senior cornerback Tremaine McCollum (Miami, Fla.) recovered at the Hogs’ nine-yard line. The blocked punt was the Gators’ eighth blocked kick of the year, breaking the school record of seven that was established in 1995. Senior quarterback Chris Leak (Charlotte, N.C.) plunged into the endzone for a nine-yard scoring run on the first play of the ensuing drive to give his team a 10-0 advantage.

 

Just over four minutes later, Leak would cap UF’s first-half scoring with a 37-yard strike to Harvin, pushing the advantage to 17-0. Leak became Florida’s all-time leader in passing yards on the play, breaking Danny Wuerffel’s career record of 10,875. The Gators headed into the locker room with a 17-7 lead after Arkansas sophomore quarterback Casey Dick hooked up with junior wideout Marcus Monk on a 48-yard touchdown pass to get the Razorbacks on the board.

 

Arkansas cut the lead to 17-14 on their first drive of the second half behind a two-yard touchdown pass from sophomore running back Darren McFadden to Jones. The Hogs took the lead less than four minutes later when sophomore defensive lineman Antwain Robinson intercepted Leak and returned the ball 40 yards for the score, giving Arkansas a 21-17 edge. UF would retake the lead on Pierre-Louis’ special-teams touchdown on the very next series, and would not trail for the remainder of the contest.

 

Leak finished the game 16-of-30 for 189 yards and a touchdown through the air, while adding 19 yards and a score on 11 carries; he now has 11,000 career passing yards and 87 collegiate touchdown passes. Harvin led the team with a career-high 105 rushing yards and a touchdown on six carries, giving him an average of 17.5 yards per attempt for the game. Sophomore tight end Cornelius Ingram (Hawthorne, Fla.) grabbed six passes for 71 yards – both career bests – to pace the Gators.

 

Junior linebacker Brandon Siler (Orlando, Fla.) posted a season-high 12 tackles, including nine solo efforts, to lead a defense that intercepted three passes in a game for the fourth time this season and recorded four tackles for loss that pushed Arkansas back eight yards. UF defenders also broke up five passes against the Hogs, running their total of passes defended to eight for the game.

 

The Gators limited McFadden, the SEC’s leading rusher, to just 73 yards on 21 carries, and held Jones to 57 yards on 13 attempts. Dick was able to complete just 10-of-22 passes for 148 yards and a score against the Florida secondary, while Monk caught a team-high three passes for 69 yards.

 

The win marks the seventh SEC title in UF history, and the sixth SEC Championship Game victory. The Gators’ have now won five games at the Georgia Dome in seven outings, and have taken five of their last seven games in the city of Atlanta.

 

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