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Saturday October 8, 2005Football Stops Miss. State, 35-9

Gainesville, FL

The 13th-ranked Gator football team defeated Mississippi State, 35-9, in front of a sun-splashed crowd of 90,104 fans at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Saturday afternoon. Florida (5-1/3-1 SEC) claimed its 17th straight Homecoming victory, while the Bulldogs fell to 2-4 overall and 0-4 in league action. In addition, the Gators have taken five of their first six contests for the first time since 2001.


Senior Dallas Baker (New Smyrna Beach, Fla.) caught a 15-yard touchdown pass from junior Chris Leak (Charlotte, N.C.) and finished with career highs in receptions (seven) and yardage (123 yards). Meanwhile, the Gator defense totaled six sacks, forced three turnovers and registered two safeties.


After intercepting Leak on the Gators’ opening drive and taking possession at UF’s 29-yard line, Mississippi State was victimized by a turnover of its own when sophomore Kyle Jackson (Neptune Beach, Fla.) notched his second pick of the year with a sprawling grab in the end zone.


Florida opened the scoring with a 10-play, 53-yard drive that was capped by a 44-yard field goal from junior Chris Hetland (Leesburg, Ga.) with 8:22 remaining in the first quarter. Facing a third down and seven from UF’s 34-yard line, Leak found junior Chad Jackson (Hoover, Ala.) on a crossing pattern for 11 yards to extend Jackson’s streak to 18 consecutive games with a reception. On the next two plays, freshman Markus Manson (Tuscaloosa, Ala.) and Jackson picked up consecutive first downs with carries of 11 and 12 yards, respectively, before Hetland connected on his third field goal from beyond 40 yards this year.    


On their next drive, the Bulldogs answered with a career-long field goal of 49 yards by junior Keith Andrews to tie the score at 3-3 with 4:08 left in the opening frame. State used an eight-play drive, spanning 4:14, and gained 33 yards to even the contest.


Midway through the second quarter, junior Eric Wilbur (Winter Park, Fla.) pinned the Bulldogs’ at their own one-yard line with a season-high 56-yard punt. Soon after, senior Jarvis Herring (Live Oak, Fla.) pressured MSU junior quarterback Omarr Conner into an intentional grounding penalty in the end zone, resulting in a safety and a 5-3 Gator lead. Florida’s defense had not recorded a safety since Nov. 21, 1998, against Florida State. 


Following a 40-yard punt by Wilbur, a fumble recovery by junior Reggie Nelson (Melbourne, Fla.) on the muffed punt gave Florida the ball at Mississippi State’s 13-yard line. On the next play, junior DeShawn Wynn (Cincinnati, Ohio) took the handoff from Leak and raced into the end zone for his SEC-leading eighth touchdown of the campaign and a 12-3 advantage for the hosts with 6:16 left until the half. The one-play drive lasting seven seconds was UF’s quickest since a one-play, four-second drive against San Jose State on Aug. 30, 2003, when Ran Carthon had a two-yard rushing score.


Just before the half, the Bulldogs used a 56-yard completion from freshman Michael Henig to classmate Keon Humphries down to the Florida 18-yard line, setting up a 35-yard field goal attempt by Andrews with two seconds remaining. However, the kick was wide right to send the Gators into the locker room ahead, 12-3. UF carried the ball 18 times for 107 yards in the first half and each team had a pair of turnovers.


UF extended its lead to 19-3 on a three-yard rushing touchdown by Leak with 5:31 left in the third quarter. The TD was Leak’s third on the ground this season, placing him second on the squad. The 5:17 scoring drive covered 73 yards and 10 plays and featured a 12-yard reception by junior Gavin Dickey (Tallahassee, Fla.) and a 28-yard grab by Baker.


Twenty-seven seconds later, senior Jerious Norwood ripped off a career-best 76-yard scoring run to pull the Bulldogs to within 19-9. However, the two-point conversion was no good when senior Vernell Brown (Gainesville, Fla.) tipped away the pass from Hening intended for junior Will Prosser.


After Wilbur hemmed MSU at the one-yard line for the second time in the game, a sack by sophomore Brandon Siler (Orlando, Fla.) on Henig resulted in the Gators’ second safety of the afternoon and a 21-9 lead with 59 seconds remaining in the third. It was the first time Florida had two safeties in a game since a 31-4 setback to Miami (Fla.) on Sept. 5, 1987. UF received the ensuing free kick and drove the ball 68 yards on eight plays, completed by a 15-yard scoring toss from Leak to Baker to build a 28-9 advantage with 13:07 left in the game.


A blocked punt by Webb in the end zone resulted in a touchdown by junior Terrence Holmes (Glassboro, N.J.) and a 35-9 cushion for the Gators with 12 minutes showing on the clock. It was the first blocked kick for a TD by Florida since Sept. 11, 1999, against UCF.


The Gators finished with 480 yards of total offense, gaining 191 yards on 37 carries (5.2 avg.) and passing for 289 yards. Leak was 18-for-33 for 244 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions, while freshman Josh Portis (Woodland Hills, Calif.) was 3-for-5 for 45 yards and one pick. Manson led the team with 45 yards on seven attempts and Portis carried the ball five times for 40 yards. The duo of Baker (123 yards) and Jackson (78 yards) had seven receptions apiece. Wilbur punted six times for the Gators and kept MSU inside of its own 20-yard line five times, good for an average of 47.3 yards per kick.


For Mississippi State, Hening was 9-for-20 for 119 yards after replacing the injured Conner (2-for-5, 15 yards). Norwood rushed for 111 yards on 13 carries and was responsible for the Bulldogs' only touchdown. Florida had a 34:07-25:53 edge in the time of possession.


Florida heads to Baton Rouge next weekend to face Western Division rival LSU. The game will be televised nationally by CBS Sports at 3:30 p.m.




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