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Tenacity keeps Gators in hunt for East title

UF made mistakes but bounced back for biggest win of year.

By ANTONYA ENGLISH, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published November 4, 2002


JACKSONVILLE -- When Florida offensive tackle Shannon Snell publicly stated that unranked Florida would defeat No. 5 Georgia on Saturday night at Alltel Stadium, he became a national poster boy for bulletin-board material.

So immediately after Florida's 20-13 upset, Snell resisted the temptation to sound off, then let it go.

"I don't want to say I told you guys so, but I just felt all week, I just said we were going to win," the Tampa native said. "I went out there with the honest opinion we were going to win the game, and we did."

How big was the win?

Florida knocked its longtime rival from the ranks of the unbeaten, which puts pressure on the Bulldogs (8-1, 5-1) to win the rest of their games to claim the SEC East.

Florida (6-3, 4-2) remains in the hunt for the East title and moved back into the Associated Press Top 25 poll at No. 23.

The Gators dropped out Oct. 13 after 209 consecutive weeks. Florida is No. 17 in the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll, one ahead of Florida State.

Ron Zook, who has been heavily criticized, became the first UF coach to beat two Top 5 teams in his first season.

But for Zook and his players, the most impressive thing was the way they won: with solid defense, by overcoming mistakes and with contributions from many players.

Florida got into the red zone three times in the first half without scoring and had two interceptions, two fumbles, one missed field goal and a missed extra point.

"There were enough bad things that happened that we could have hung our heads and gave in with all the things that have gone on here this year," Zook said Sunday afternoon. "But they hung together, they hung in there and they did exactly what we asked them to do. To me, to be able to do that, then there's got to be something good about this football team."

With wide receiver Taylor Jacobs sidelined after the first series with a strained MCL, receivers Kelvin Kight, Antoine Sharp and Carlos Perez set career highs for receptions.

"Each person went to another person and said it's time to step up," Kight said. "It was just that time for the young guys to step up and see what we could do. We'd been waiting for this game. It means a great deal."

Florida's offensive touchdowns were scored by tight ends Aaron Walker and Ben Troupe. An Augusta native, Troupe had a career-high four catches for 47 yards and the winning TD. The other touchdown came off Jacksonville native Guss Scott's 47-yard interception return.

Georgia's offense averaged 393 yards but was held to 294 by Florida. On the Bulldogs' final three trips into the red zone, the Gators held them to minus-18 yards and one field goal.

Now, the Gators' task is to put the Georgia game behind them and look prepare for Vanderbilt. They travel to Nashville for a 2 p.m. game on Saturday.

Vanderbilt has lost 23 of its past 24 SEC games and hasn't beaten Florida since 1988. The Gators have won 11 straight.

For the Gators to win the SEC East and go to Atlanta to play for the SEC championship, they must defeat Vandy and South Carolina and hope Georgia loses one of its remaining games.

"Obviously, we want Ole Miss and Auburn to beat Georgia, either one or both," Zook said. "I'm not going to say we don't want them to do that. But there's nothing that we can do. We have to make sure we take care of our business. As soon as you start looking over there, it's like anything else, you start changing your focus to something else then you get smacked in the face."

INJURY REPORT: Zook said Jacobs was scheduled to be examined by team doctors at 3 p.m. Sunday. Saturday night, the prognosis was that he would miss possibly four weeks.

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