Gators QB Chris Leak fumbles the ball in the second quarter, leading to a field goal by FSU.
Zook and his players react to a missed field-goal attempt in the third quarter.
[Times photo: James Borchuck]
FSU CB Bryant McFadden intercepts a pass intended for Florida WR Jemalle Cornelius in the second quarter.
[Times photo: James Borchuck]
TALLAHASSEE - Maybe Ron Zook can coach 'em up after all.
Zook, a lame duck after his midseason firing, led the Florida Gators to a 20-13 win against intrastate rival Florida State on Saturday night in front of 84,223 at the newly christened Bobby Bowden Field at Doak Campbell Stadium.
Steve Spurrier, the measuring stick for Zook and all UF coaches to come, was 0-5-1 here. Heck, the Gators hadn't won here since 1986.
But Zook, doused by water, then hoisted up on senior offensive lineman Mo Mitchell's broad shoulder after a last-minute defensive stand, had his team ready and he had sophomore quarterback Chris Leak and junior tailback Ciatrick Fason to upset the 10th-ranked Seminoles (8-3).
Minutes after a postgame prayer at midfield, Zook got another ride, this time flanked by all the Gators, many of whom returned to the field for what could be a parting salute.
"Obviously this is a big win and I'm happy for our players and for our coaches," Zook said. "I'm happy for the Gator fans, those who are true Gator fans. These guys never quit. They just keep playing. The coaches just keep coaching. This football team, as I have said in the last couple of weeks, is going to win a lot games (in the future)."
Just with someone new on the sideline.
The Gators (7-4) ended a turbulent regular season on a high, which should temper any ambivalent feelings they may have about spending New Year's Eve in either Nashville for the Music City Bowl or Atlanta for the Peach. Zook and athletic director Jeremy Foley will meet this week to discuss whether Zook will coach in the bowl.
"I told him he's an outstanding coach, he's a great coach in my opinion," Bowden said of Zook. "I know he'll land on his feet. He did a great job preparing his team."
As much as the game meant to Zook and UF, the loss perhaps meant as much to the Seminoles.
At 6-2 in the league, the Seminoles still can claim a share of the ACC title for the 12th time in 13 years, but they seem unlikely to win a tiebreaker and take the league's automatic berth to the Bowl Championship Series. The final BCS poll looms as the difference maker, which made the Florida game critical.
Now the Jan. 1 Gator Bowl or Dec. 31 Peach Bowl is their likely holiday destination.
"I ain't too happy about this thing," Bowden said.
FSU's offense sputtered badly again and late in the third quarter, Bowden pulled redshirt sophomore Wyatt Sexton for fifth-year senior Chris Rix, who had huge games against the Gators the past two seasons.
Rix completed 9-of-16 for 150 yards, including a 27-yard touchdown to senior receiver Chauncey Stovall, then got the ball back with 1:03 left at his 45. He drove his team to the 18, had to spike the ball on first down to stop the clock with 28 seconds, threw two incompletions, then saw his fourth-down throw intercepted by safety Jarvis Herring.
"We wanted to win this for coach, but time ran out before we were able to do that," Rix said.
Freshman kicker Gary Cismesia, who had replaced an erratic Xavier Beitia this month and made his first seven field goals, including a 20-yarder in the final seconds of the first half Saturday, missed wide left from 32 and 39 yards in the second half. Beitia relieved him in the final quarter and hit a career-long 52-yarder.
"The first thing I think of is opportunities lost," Bowden said. "It seems like we had enough opportunities to win it. ... .We missed too many field goals to keep up with them."
Them would be Fason and Leak.
Fason rushed for 103 yards on 24 carries, 85 of the yards coming after intermission. That included an 8-yard touchdown with 4:59 left that proved to be the difference.
Leak wasn't bad either. He threw for 231 yards, most in the opening half, and one touchdown, a 13-yarder to sophomore Chad Jackson that culminated a 97-yard drive for a 7-0 lead midway through the first quarter.
He also had an interception, the first of the season by senior cornerback Bryant McFadden, that ended another impressive drive, then a costly fumble after absorbing a bruising blow from sophomore linebacker Ernie Sims. That turnover set up Cismesia's field goal to bring the Seminoles within 10-3 at the half.
"I saw a lot of guys leaving everything on the field and we won it for Coach," Fason said. "We've come a long way and it was great to send coach out with a win."