Georgia 31, UF 24
JACKSONVILLE - At the end of an unforgettable week during an increasingly frustrating season, Florida continued a trend. The Gators came close. Oh, so close. But yet again, it wasn't enough.
In front of a stadium-record crowd of 84,753, No.7 Georgia broke free of more than a decade of frustration against the Gators with a 31-24 win at Alltel Stadium. It was the Bulldogs' first series victory in the past seven seasons and second in the past 15.
"I love winning," senior defensive end David Pollack said. "I love winning period, even if we're playing the little fish of the poor.
"I'm excited for the fans. They can come back to the World's Largest Cocktail Party and not have to hear Florida fans running their mouths anymore."
And Florida can go back to Gainesville and hear nothing else.
With the announcement Monday that their coach was fired effective at the end of the season, Florida players were adamant they would do everything possible to win Saturday. And Ron Zook said he believes they did.
"Obviously, we are disappointed, but I want to tell you something. Those guys didn't quit," Zook said in a halting voice, having to stop and compose himself several times.
"They had chances to quit, but they never did. Did we win? No. We made too many mistakes against a good football team. But those guys fought until the end. They could have cashed it in, but they didn't."
It was indicative of the season.
While Georgia celebrated its triumph, Florida again pondered what went wrong.
The Gators commited 10 penalties for 77 yards. Georgia outgained Florida 153-123 during the first quarter. But by the end of the game, the Gators had outgained the Bulldogs 458-405. Georgia gained just 45 of its 166 rushing yards during the second half.
"We went out there and gave it the best we could," defensive end Jeremy Mincey said. "You can see how young and talented we are. We did the best we could. We just got the defense rolling too late, but we tried really hard."
The Gators trailed 21-7 early in the second quarter but pulled within 24-21 early in the fourth quarter.
Their defense struggled again. The trouble began when sophomore linebacker Channing Crowder, who entered as the Gators' and SEC's leading tackler, went down with a foot injury with 3:52 remaining in the first quarter. Linebacker Earl Everett later sustained a concussion.
"I tried my best to keep the defense pumped up," freshman linebacker Brandon Siler said. "I don't know if we ever adjusted to (Crowder) not being there."
Giving up big plays continued to haunt Florida.
Two of the biggest? A 51-yard pass from David Greene to Reggie Brown, part of an 85-yard drive. It was capped by Greene's 15-yard touchdown pass to Fred Gibson that made it 31-21 with 8:37 left, which came on third and 9 from the Florida 15. A Gator just missed intercepting the pass. "I can't believe I caught it, to tell you the truth," said Gibson, who had five catches for 59 yards.
Greene was 15-of-23 for 255 yards with three touchdowns. Two were to sophomore tight end Leonard Pope, a 27-yarder four minutes into the game to give Georgia (7-1, 5-1 SEC) a 7-0 lead and a 35-yarder with 4:01 remaining in the first quarter that made it 14-7.
Thomas Brown's 5-yard run gave the Bulldogs a 21-7 lead three minutes into the second quarter. "Everybody knows the week was hard for us, and everybody thought we were going to lay down," said Florida running back Ciatrick Fason, who had 17 carries for 139 yards. "We didn't. We came back and fought through a lot of adversity and put them back on their heels. And they know it. But we made a lot of mistakes. and Georgia was just a little bit better team."
Yes, Florida did fight back. Jemalle Cornelius' 21-yard run tied the score with 7:52 left in the first quarter. Then with 4:29 remaining in the third quarter, Chris Leak (22-of-34, 247 yards) hit Andre Caldwell for a 57-yard touchdown to pull the Gators within 10.
Tight end Billy Latsko caught a 3-yard pass from Leak with 12:20 left in the game to pull Florida within 24-21.
But Gibson's touchdown sealed the Gators' fate. Part of another frustrating day for the Gators.
"After the game, it hurt listening to their fans hollering like this is their home, when this is supposed to be our home," Caldwell said.
"This was a hard loss to take. We gave everything we had for ourselves, the coaches and the team. It just didn't happen."