Saturday August 30, 2008Gators Top Hawaii, 56-10, in Season Opener
The No. 5 Gators opened the 2008 football season with a 56-10 victory over the Hawaii Warriors in front of a White-Out crowd of 90,575 fans at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Saturday afternoon. The attendance was the 10th-highest in school history at The Swamp.
Florida debuted in successful fashion, scoring on offense, defense and special teams to top the Warriors in its 19th-consecutive season-opener, the longest current streak in the SEC. In addition, the last time the Gators scored on all three specialties was in the 59-20 win over SEC foe Tennessee on Sept. 15, 2007.
Sophomore Ahmad Black (Lakeland, Fla.) led a stellar Gator defense that forced six turnovers. He snagged the first two interceptions of his career, highlighted by an 80-yard return for a touchdown. The Gators allowed only 60 rushing yards and 181 passing yards from the Warrior offense, while UF’s running backs spearheaded the UF offensive effort.
The Gators tallied four rushing touchdowns on the day against Hawaii, three from the running backs. It marked the first time that UF’s running backs accounted for three touchdowns in a season opener under head coach Urban Meyer and the group totaled 187 yards on 21 carries. The running backs were led by freshman Chris Rainey (Lakeland, Fla.), who gained 58 yards rushing on six carries, and had a 33-yard touchdown.
Following an interception by Black that gave the Gators possession of the ball at their own 27-yard line with 1:48 remaining in the first quarter, the hosts marched 80 yards on 10 plays to begin the scoring. The Gators broke the ice at the 11:39 mark of the second quarter after a one-yard rush by junior Brandon James (St. Augustine, Fla.) that capped a 5:09 drive. Senior Jonathan Phillips’ (Wellington, Fla.) extra point was good for a 7-0 lead.
Two plays later, Hawaii’s next possession was cut short by a 32-yard pass interception at the 10:32 mark by sophomore safety Major Wright (Miramar, Fla.). Wright took the ball to the house, reeling in his second career interception and first career touchdown, to put the Gators up 14-0 midway through the second quarter.
After forcing two interceptions and recovering a Hawaii fumble on three-straight Hawaii possessions, the Gators held the Warriors once again, forcing a punt at the 5:35 minute mark of the second quarter, setting up James’ second touchdown of the game on a 74-yard punt return that put the Gators ahead 21-0. The touchdown gave James his third career punt return for a touchdown, one short of the school-record four by Jacquez Green.
On Hawaii’s next possession, the Warriors attempted an offensive rally that was stopped short when junior linebacker Ryan Stamper (Jacksonville, Fla.) recovered UH’s second fumble of the game, setting the Gators up for a 42-yard, two-play series that extended UF’s lead to 28-0 when Rainey punched in a 33-yard touchdown following a 12-yard run by junior Tim Tebow (Jacksonville, Fla.) to close out the first half for the Gators.
The Gators jumped out of the gates in the second half, incorporating a fake punt by on the initial possession by sophomore Chas Henry (Dallas, Ga.) to set up a 62-yard touchdown for freshman Jeff Demps (Okahumpka, Fla.) at the 12:16 mark of the third quarter. Demps’ first career touchdown came on his second carry as a Gator. Henry’s fake brought the Gators to a perfect six-for-six in fake punts under Meyer.
UF’s defense proved to be too much for the Warriors to handle on Hawaii’s next offensive possession, setting up a Florida drive that spanned 58 yards and two plays, ending with a 48-yard touchdown pass from Tebow to senior wide receiver Louis Murphy (St. Petersburg, Fla.). Phillips’ extra point was good, giving the Gators a 42-0 margin.
Florida’s domination continued, as it scored twice more in the third quarter, first on a quarterback-keeper by UF’s Cam Newton (College Park, Ga.) at the 2:52 mark, with the extra point good by Phillips, followed by Black’s second interception of the day on Hawaii’s offensive possession at the 40-second mark. Black’s 80-yard return for a touchdown marked the eighth-longest interception return in UF history, and the longest return since Tony George’s 89-yard return against Tennessee in 1997.
Hawaii replaced first-half quarterback Greg Alexander with sophomore Brent Rausch, who led UH to one punting situation, followed by Black’s interception on the Warriors’ third possession of the fourth quarter. Hawaii’s first scoring opportunity of the game came with 9:30 left in the fourth quarter, when Warrior senior Dan Kelly connected on a 30-yard field goal to bring the score to 56-3.
Hawaii scored again with 1:37 left in the fourth game, when junior quarterback Inoke Funaki hooked up with Greg Salas on a 13-yard scoring toss to finalize the margin at 56-10.
For Florida, Tebow finished 9-for-14 for 137 yards and one touchdown, Demps gained 76 yards on two carries and Murphy had two receptions for 51 yards.
The Gators return to action next Saturday, Sept. 6, when the University of Miami (Fla.) (1-0), visits Gainesville. Game time is slated for 8 p.m. and will be carried by ESPN.