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Monday January 2, 2012No Debate: Special Teams Play Huge Difference in Gators' Victory

By Chris Harry
GatorZone Contributing Writer

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- There was confusion in the press box and even on the sidelines.

When Ohio State’s Ben Buchanan had his fourth-quarter punt blocked and returned for a touchdown by Florida freshman Graham Stewart, officials initially credited the block to sophomore Solomon Patton, who stormed in from right. Replays, however, seemed to show that senior Chris Rainey, who beat his man up the middle, thumped the ball, instead.

Debate on.

“I’d say I got it,” Patton said. "But I think Rainey would say he did.”

Patton was half right.

“It was me,” Rainey said.

No one would disagree the play was huge in Florida’s 24-17 defeat of Ohio State in the Gator Bowl at EverBank Field, just like there could be no debate that UF’s special teams were the difference in the Gators wrapping up the 2011 season on a high note.

“Those guys all executed,” special teams coach D.J. Durkin said.

All the way down to when 6-foot-6 sophomore wide receiver Stephen Alli grabbed the Buckeyes onsides kick attempt with 50 seconds to play to preserve the victory.

Sophomore wideout Andre Debose, named Most Valuable Player of the game, returned a second-quarter kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown right after the Buckeyes scored to tie the things at 7-all and seize the game’s momentum. Debose took the ball at the 1, headed toward the left sideline, got a grazing block from Jeff Demps and was never touched on the play.

“I just followed Demps and he kind of led me to the promised land,” Debose said.

For the sophomore from Sanford, Fla., it was his third career kickoff return for a touchdown, a school-record, but also the longest play in Gator Bowl history.

“That meant a lot to me,” he said. “I had an opportunity today to help the team a lot, so it feels great. There’s no feeling like it.”

Unless, of course, that of the leathern coming off the foot of a kicker and blocking the punt to help seal the game. That's probably felt pretty good, too. So much that at least two Gators claimed to have gotten that feeling Monday.

“They were both right there,” Durkin said. “Both those guys have dynamic speed and when we get in the right matchup, against the right play, they have a chance to come running free. Both of them did a great job.”

The same could be said about all of Durkin’s units on the day.

“Special teams [were] huge,” UF coach Will Muschamp said. “D.J. Durkin dos the best job in the country on special teams, [with] week-in, week-out momentum changers and putting our guys in position to be successful.”

And to argue about who made the play.

All in fun, of course.

“Coach was really pushing us all week and telling us how special teams have really changed some of the bowl games this year,” Patton said. “They talked about it and we were determined to do something about in the this game.”

Like make the plays to win it.

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