GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- On the list of so-called rivals, Arkansas doesn’t sniff the University of Florida’s top 10. Not even close. The two schools have only played nine times in their programs’ combined 227 years of football.
But squeezed into that mini-series -- all in the last 33 years, by the way -- the Gators and Razorbacks have played some significant (in a couple cases high-stakes) games that paved the way for UF’s ascension to its place among the preeminent programs in the nation.
The ramifications of the 10th meeting Saturday night at Florida Field won’t have the significance of the first two games on the below list. But who knows? The first night game in the “Swamp” since 2011 may offer something to remember in a series the Gators lead 8-1, including eight straight victories.
So my latest history lesson recalls five of the most memorable games (that would be more than half of the all-time series) the Gators and Hogs have played.
FLORIDA 38, ARKANSAS 28
Dec. 2, 2006
SEC Championship Game (Atlanta)
Fourth-ranked Florida had a 10-point lead on No. 8 Arkansas at halftime when word came down that UCLA stunned second-rank USC, an outcome that suddenly put the Gators in prime position to play for a national championship.
First, they had to finish off the Hogs, and that looked like a problem after Arkansas came out of the locker room and scored back-to-back touchdowns following a pair of Chris Leak interceptions. The Razorbacks, once down 17-0 and seeking their first SEC title since joining the league in 1992, led 21-17.
After a third failed UF possession, the game turned when Arkansas punt returner Reggie Fish tried to field a kick with an over-the-shoulder catch near his goal line. Fish fumbled into the end zone, where UF’s Wondy Pierre-Louis fell on the ball for a touchdown to give the Gators back the lead.
Then early in the fourth quarter, Percy Harvin (11 touches, 167 yards of total offense, 2 TDs) took what appeared to be a handoff for an end run, but reversed his field and split the Arkansas defense for a numbing 67-yard touchdown run and 10-point lead, as the Gators went up by 10 and went on to the victory.
Immediately after the game, the Gators (players, coaches and even one rather prominent administrator) began stumping for UF’s shot at No. 1 and undefeated Ohio State in the national championship game. With the USC loss, the Gators needed only to vault No. 3 Michigan, which had lost to the Buckeyes the week before.
“Michigan had its chances,” Harvin said.
“We're going to tell a group of young men who just went 12-1 with the most difficult schedule against six ranked opponents that they don't have a chance to go play for a national championship?” Florida coach Urban Meyer asked. “I'm going to need help with that one.”
He got help from UF president Bernie Machen: “If they don't vote for us after tonight, we need a new system. We should be packing our bags for Glendale.”
The next day, packing for Arizona commenced.
Of course, the Gators destroyed the Buckeyes and Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith 41-14 in the BCS national championship game five weeks later.
FLORIDA 34, ARKANSAS 3
Dec. 2, 1995
SEC Championship Game (Atlanta)
Whatever drama was left -- and it wasn’t much -- evaporated with what the Razorbacks probably thought was a simple pitchout and a chance to salvage a little respect on the scoreboard.
No. 2 UF led 24th-ranked Arkansas 24-3 late in the third quarter, with the Hogs threatening on the Florida 3. That was when quarterback Barry Lunney optioned to his left and was being taken down by defensive tackle Ed Chester when he flipped the ball toward tailback Marius Johnson.
Instead, it went into the hands of UF linebacker Ben Hanks, who went untouched 95 yards for the touchdown.
The Gators not only were on their way to a third straight SEC title and first perfect regular season in school history, but also to the Fiesta Bowl national championship game -- UF’s first berth in college football’s title game -- to face reigning champ Nebraska.
And for those who recall the latter, yes, this was the high point of the season.
“We had victories on the line tonight. If we had stubbed our toe there would’ve been some sad, sad Gators,” said UF coach Steve Spurrier, whose consolation prize had his team lost that night would have been a trip to the Citrus Bowl in Orlando. “We’d never had a game where basically the whole season was at stake. We couldn’t tell our players that or tell them the money difference between the Fiesta and the others. So we told ‘em this was for the SEC championship and to relax, have fun and have a go at Arkansas.”
Junior quarterback Danny Wuerffel, who would finish third in the Heisman Trophy balloting the following week, hit 20 of 28 passes for 288 yards and touchdowns to Chris Doering and Ike Hilliard. He also ran for a score.
“We knew we almost had to play perfect to beat them,” Razorbacks coach Danny Ford said.
They were far from perfect ... unlike the Gators’ next opponent (See 62-24).
FLORIDA 42, ARKANSAS 7
Oct. 5, 1996
Though he took some of the worst body blows of his career, they paled in comparison to the beating Wuerffel put on the Razorbacks in passing for a UF record 462 yards and four touchdowns.
“The guy is unbelievable,” Florida guard Donnie Young said. “I think it would take a fright train to knock him out.”
A conga line of Arkansas lineman and linebackers couldn’t do it. Not for lack of trying.
Wuerffe, on his way to winning the Heisman that year,l finished 23 of 39 with three touchdown strikes to Reidel Anthony, who finished with nine catches for 189 yards. The top-ranked Gators handed Arkansas its worst home loss in 65 years and won their 14th straight SEC road game.
The four scores moved Wuerffel to No. 4 on college football’s all-time touchdown pass record with 89.
“It seems like he breaks a record every week,” Anthony said. “That’s no big thing for us.”
Neither were the insults Spurrier had hurled at him leaving the field after the game; specifically, after a fourth quarter when the Gators -- amid a rain of boos -- tried to pad a five-touchdown lead with field-goal attempts and throws into the end zone.
The catcalls came from angry Hogs fans in the stands.
You got no class, Spurrier!
How’s it feel to run it up?
Spurrier pointed to a couple of the fans and applauded them.
“Thank you! Thank you!” he shouted back. “We love it when you accuse us of that.”
FLORIDA 23, ARKANSAS 20
Oct. 17, 2009
Caleb Sturgis kicked a 27-yard field goal with nine seconds to play to give the defending national champion and No. 1-ranked Gators a harrowing victory and kept their unbeaten season and quest for a second straight title alive.
Senior quarterback Tim Tebow ran for 30 yards and passed for 22 more on the game-winning drive; a 69-yard march in the final three minutes that kept the Swamp from draining.
Tebow could not bear to watch the kick from the UF sidelines. Instead, he kept his eyes closed and did what he often did before, during and after games. He prayed.
“Once I heard everybody cheering and opened my eyes and saw we had made the field goal ... that was fun,” said Tebow, who passed for 244 yards, including a touchdown to Deonte Thompson. “I always knew we had a shot. We were just going to keep believing until the last second.”
The Gators had to overcome four turnovers -- all fumbles -- and a 20-13 deficit early in the fourth quarter.
“You usually don’t win that kind of game,” Meyer said.
Jeff Demps’ 10-yard touchdown run tied the game with 7:27 to play and the Tebow drive and Sturgis kick won it, extending the nation’s longest winning streak to 16 games.
ARKANSAS 28, FLORIDA 24
Dec. 31, 1982
Bluebonnet Bowl (Houston)
Razorbacks tailback Gary Anderson gashed the Gators for 161 yards and scored a pair of touchdowns, throwing water on Florida’s hot finish to the end of the season. UF came into the game having won three straight and five of the previous six.
Instead, it was Arkansas coach Lou Holtz, not Florida’s Charley Pell, who celebrated after the win. Razorbacks players, led by first-team All-America defensive tackle Billy Ray Smith, doused Holtz with water on the floor of the Astrodome.
“I’ve coached in well over 100 football games, but I’ve never gotten wet I came to the Astrodome,” Holtz said. “It was a great game. The momentum kept swinging back and forth and there were a lot of big plays, but none bigger than the way we held onto the ball in the final quarter.”
The Gators rushed for 140 yards in the first half. Quarterback Bob Hewko went 13 of 18 for 167 yards and two TDs through the first two quarters, with seven completions for 71 yards and two scores to Dwayne Dixon. UF led 24-14 heading into the final period.
But a Tom Jones-to-Jessie Clark touchdown early in the final quarter made the score 24-21, and the Hogs finished a 83-yard scoring drive with a 1-run run from Jones with 8:04 to play.
Arkansas held the ball 11 minutes, 21 seconds of the fourth quarter and finished with 28 first downs and 480 yards of total offense to hand the Gators their sixth loss in seven bowl games, dating to 1973, dropping UF to 6-8 all time in bowls.
1997 - Florida 56, Arkansas 7
The buzz: Bo Carroll returned the opening kickoff 94 yards for a TD, Doug Johnson threw three TDs and the top-ranked, defending national champion Gators won the last of their SEC-record 25 straight games. UF lost at LSU the next week.
2003 - Florida 33, Arkansas 28
The buzz: The Gators nearly blew a 26-point lead, but a Razorbacks personal foul with a minute left wipeed out a Chris Leak interception and helped UF hold on.
2004 - Florida 45, Arkansas 30
The buzz: Leak’s career day (322 yards, 3 TDs) outdid Hogs QB Matt Jones, but the Gators needed Channing Crowder’s 4th-quarter interception to ice it.
2008 - Florida 38, Arkansas 7
The buzz: A week after reading “The Promise,” Tebow led Gators to the first of 10 straight wins en route to UF’s second national title in three seasons.