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Sunday September 4, 2005Football Defeats Wyoming In Meyer's Coaching Debut, 32-14

Gainesville, FL

Before a record-breaking crowd of 90,707 fans at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Saturday night, the 10th-ranked Gator football team notched a 32-14 triumph over Wyoming in the Florida head coaching debut of Urban Meyer. The victory was UF's 16th straight season and home-opening win, the longest streak in the Southeastern Conference.

 

Junior Chris Leak (Charlotte, N.C.) set a school record with 17 consecutive completions, eclipsing the previous mark of 16 set by Steve Spurrier during the 1966 campaign. Leak registered his fifth career 300-yard passing game by finishing with 320 yards, on a career-high 26 completions in 34 attempts. He fired three touchdown passes to junior wide receiver Chad Jackson (Hoover, Ala.), who became the eighth Gator to score four times in a game when he rushed for a TD in the fourth quarter.  

 

Florida opened the scoring on a 26-yard bullet from Leak to Jackson with 0:21 left in the first quarter. Jackson accounted for 49 of the 64 yards on the drive, and junior kicker Chris Hetland (Leesburg, Ga.) tacked on the extra point on the first kick of his career to put the Gators on the board, 7-0. The drive consisted of six plays and lasted 3:24.

 

In the second quarter, senior Vernell Brown (Gainesville, Fla.) returned a Wyoming punt 22 yards to the Cowboys' 41-yard line to give the Gators prime field position. Facing third-down and seven yards, Leak found Jackson for 11 yards down to the 27-yard line. Later facing another third down at the 12-yard line, Leak ran a quarterback draw that gained five yards for another UF first down. On the next play, Leak found Jackson from seven yards out on a crossing pattern that resulted in a 14-0 lead for the hosts with 8:47 remaining in the half. Florida used nine plays and 4:39 of the clock to hit pay-dirt.

 

With the Gators pinned at their own 16 yard-line late in the second quarter, Leak launched a 63-yard bomb to junior Andre Caldwell (Tampa, Fla.) down to Wyoming's 21-yard line. After a 16-yard-loss on a fumble backed the Gators up, Hetland connected on his first career field goal from 40 yards out to expand the margin to 17-0.

 

The Gators started the second half with a bang when junior Skyler Thornton (LaGrange, Ga.) opened the possession with a 12-yard run. With UF facing 3rd-and-4, Leak found junior wide receiver Jemalle Cornelius (Fort Meade, Fla.) darting down the sideline for 19 yards into Wyoming territory. With 11:44 remaining in the third quarter, Florida increased its lead to 23-0 when Leak hooked up with Jackson for a 26-yard scoring toss, Jackson's third touchdown reception of the game. Leak's 15th straight completion capped off a seven-play, 80-yard drive that lasted 3:16. However, the extra-point attempt went awry, marking Florida's first failed PAT since Nov. 2, 2002.

 

Following a 66-yard kickoff return by senior Jovon Bouknight, Wyoming broke into the scoring column with 7:08 left in the third quarter when senior Corey Bramlet scored on a four-yard rush. The Cowboys' drive covered 34 yards in eight plays.

 

On the ensuing kickoff, Caldwell produced a 47-yard return to give the Gators possession at Wyoming's 48 yard-line. Hetland later boomed a 47-yard field goal through the uprights to give the Gators a 19-point cushion, 26-7, with 3:11 left in the third quarter. Hetland's second three-pointer of the night marked the first time since Nov. 6, 2004 that a Gator had converted two field goals from beyond 40 yards in the same game, as Matt Leach accomplished the feat in a 34-17 road win over Vanderbilt.

 

Brown's first career interception gave the Gators the ball at Wyoming's 43-yard line and set up his club's final score of the night. Facing a second and goal from the five-yard line, Leak tossed an option pitch to Jackson, who found his way into the end zone for the fourth time in the game. Florida's conversion attempt failed, holding the margin at 32-7.

 

With 4:43 remaining, Bouknight hauled in an 18-yard pass from Bramlet to pull the Cowboys to within 32-14. The 76-yard, nine-play drive spanned 3:06.

 

For the Gators, Jackson set career highs in receiving yards (138), receptions (10) and touchdowns (four). Caldwell finished with seven catches for 99 yards, while senior Dallas Baker (New Smyrna Beach, Fla.) had five receptions for 44 yards. Freshman Josh Portis (Woodland Hills, Calif.) gained a team-high 45 yards on five carries, including a team-high 23-yard rush on UF's final drive. Wyoming's Bramlet was 14-for-32 for 150 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Freshman Wynel Seldon was his team's rushing leader with 56 yards on 18 carries, while Bouknight had five catches for 54 yards.

 

Florida rang up 411 yards of total offense on 70 plays, featuring 36 rushes and 34 passing attempts. The Gators did not commit any turnovers and used a team-high seven tackles by sophomore Brandon Siler (Orlando, Fla.) and six solo tackles by Brown to limit Wyoming to 222 yards of total offense. The Gators (1-0) return to action next Saturday at 6 p.m. when they welcome Louisiana Tech (0-0) to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

 

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