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Still standing

UF 30, AUBURN 23 (OT): The Gators go from up 23-7 in the fourth to tied to ending a two-game skid.

By ANTONYA ENGLISH, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published October 20, 2002


GAINESVILLE -- Rex Grossman and Taylor Jacobs connected on a 25-yard touchdown in overtime, and Clint Mitchell forced a fumble on the final play of the game.

And all is well with the Gators -- at least for now.

Playing with a brace on his right leg and limping near the end of the game from a sprained knee sustained Oct. 12 against LSU, Grossman's pass hit Jacobs as he streaked across the end zone during Florida's first possession of overtime, giving the Gators a 30-23 victory in front of 85,135 at Florida Field on Saturday night.

On Auburn's final play, Mitchell forced quarterback Jason Campbell to fumble as he scrambled. Ian Scott recovered the ball as the Gators charged onto the field in a celebration they haven't been a part of since a 41-34 victory over Kentucky on Sept.28. "It feels great," said Grossman, who was 27-for-35 for 242 yards and 2 touchdowns. "It was a dramatic win, a much-needed win for the new coaching staff and everyone involved. Any time you win in dramatic fashion, it's a fun win."

"It's a great feeling for me," Jacobs said. "People expect me to make big-time plays. Coach called my number. I got open, and Rex put the ball in my hands. I thank the Lord we got into that end zone."

The Gators also can thank defensive end Bobby McCray for reaching overtime. McCray blocked a 23-yard field goal by Damon Duval that would have given Auburn a 26-23 lead with 20 seconds left. Duval kicked the winning field goal that helped Auburn defeat then-No.1 Florida 23-20 last season.

"That's all I thought about while he was setting up," McCray said. "I got a great push by our end, and I just pushed my way through. It felt great when that ball hit my hands."

In less than 15 minutes, Florida (5-3, 3-2 SEC) went from a team about to rebound from back-to-back conference losses to a team facing a three-game losing streak entering an off week.

Trailing 23-7 after three, Auburn (4-3, 2-2) scored 16 consecutive points to send the game into overtime. Sophomore running back Ronnie Brown, who took over when Carnell "Cadillac" Williams broke his leg, scored on a 1-yard run and 54-yard pass from Campbell, and the Tigers converted on both two-point conversions, tying the score with 5:05 left. Williams, who entered the game as the SEC's leading rusher, cracked a bone in his left leg and is out for the season. He is scheduled for surgery Monday.

On the ensuing possession, Florida mounted a five-play drive that stalled at its 42. It went for it on fourth down, but Ran Carthon was stopped for no gain. Auburn drove to the Gators 6 to set up the field goal.

Before the game, the general consensus among the Gators was they needed a victory. Badly. Desperately. Any way, shape or form.

And that's what they got.

The victory helped salve an open wound but proved the wound is far from healed.

The Gators won in spite of themselves. The game included multiple illegal formation and offside penalties, missed opportunities and botched scoring attempts. Florida dominated the time of possession, holding the ball for 38:37.

But there were miscues. Two drives that started inside the red zone but netted negative yards; two touchdowns negated by holding penalties, ultimately resulting in field goals, and a first and goal from the 8 that turned into fourth and goal from the 31 late in the first half.

"Did we play well? At times, no," coach Ron Zook said. "There were times in the second half we didn't tackle well. There were times we didn't block very well. But when we had to do it, we did it. We're in a situation now where we need to do it all the time. I'm proud of our players. I'm happy for our players."

Florida opened the game with, arguably, its best drive of the season. Grossman went 9-for-10, mostly short passes thrown to five receivers. The 14-play drive culminated with a 13-yard touchdown to tight end Aaron Walker and a 7-0 lead. Then in a scripted move, Grossman was replaced by Ingle Martin with 1:45 left in the first quarter. Martin rushed for 21 yards on four carries and threw a 5-yard completion to Jacobs. Running back Earnest Graham scored on a 1-yard run to give the Gators a 14-0 lead with 12:55 left in the half. "Those were plays we worked on early in the week, when we weren't sure how Rex was going to be," Zook said. "But they were good plays, and we felt we wanted to keep them in and use them. And it worked out."

Things worked out for the Gators despite 13 penalties and four fumbles (none lost).

Auburn, which was shredded for 426 rushing yards last weekend against Arkansas, held Florida to 129. Florida, which allowed 249 rushing yards to LSU, held Auburn to 63 in the first half. But the Tigers finished with 189 yards on 34 carries.

"This was just a great win," cornerback Keiwan Ratliff said. "It felt like we won the Super Bowl or the national championship. Everybody's back in that winning spirit."

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