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20 - and counting

Backed by a stone-wall defense, Florida pulls away to stretch its win streak over Kentucky to two decades.

By ANTONYA ENGLISH
Published September 24, 2006


GAINESVILLE - Florida coach Urban Meyer has said one of the things he's most proud of is that his team doesn't panic when it gets down early.

The way things are going this season, that's probably a good trait to have.

For the second consecutive week and the third time in four games this season, Florida trailed early but rallied, earning a 26-7 win over Kentucky in front of 90,292 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Saturday night.

The No. 5 Gators (4-0, 2-0 SEC) thwarted Kentucky's attempt to win its first game in Gainesville since 1979 and end a 19-game losing streak.

Give credit to Kentucky, Meyer said.

"That team we played is a much-improved team from a year ago," he said. "... In the first half I never felt like we were stopped, but we were very much out of sync. I can't explain that. But I'm proud of the way we came out in the second half."

Florida led 12-7 at halftime but needed a late second-quarter rally to take the lead. Trailing 7-6, senior quarterback Chris Leak completed five consecutive passes, then tailback DeShawn Wynn capped off the seven-play, 78-yard drive with a 13-yard run with 22 seconds remaining in the first half.

"That was a much-needed scoring drive for us to go into the half," Leak said. "We had to run hurry-up offense because time was short. That was a huge drive for us as far as getting momentum going into the half."

Meyer added: "That was key. We were dead in the water."

The Gators scored on their opening possession of the second half on running back Kestahn Moore's 4-yard run with 7:41 remaining in the third quarter to stretch the margin to 19-7. Florida was committed to the run, and Wynn finished with his second consecutive game of more than 100 yards (104).

Leak, who became the school's career-completions leader with 727, was 15-of-26 for 267 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He was booed late in the game when he replaced freshman Tim Tebow, who rushed for 73 yards on six carries.

Meyer said he was "a little disappointed" with the fans' reaction, while Leak insisted he was too focused on the game to notice.

Florida knew coming in that Kentucky's (2-2, 1-1) strength was its passing game, particularly the short crossing patterns. The Wildcats' only score came on a possession where quarterback Andre Woodson completed seven passes of the eight plays in the drive. His 1-yard pass to Maurice Grinter with 1:59 remaining in the second quarter gave Kentucky its brief 7-6 lead.

Tebow entered late in the third quarter and rushed three times for 62 yards on one drive. His final run set up a first down at the Kentucky 10-yard line, but a few plays later, Leak's pass was intercepted in the end zone by safety Roger Williams, who returned it 21 yards.

After Tennessee stunned Florida with a trick play for a touchdown last week, Meyer was asked if he had a few trick plays in his playbook. He coyly indicated he might.

Florida electrified the crowd and surprised Kentucky less than three minutes into the game with one of its own "trick" plays.

With first and 10 at the Wildcats' 33-yard line, the Gators produced a double flea-flicker from receiver Andre Caldwell to receiver Dallas Baker, who tossed back to Leak for a 33-yard touchdown pass to Jemalle Cornelius.

"The main credit for that goes to the offensive line, because that's a long-developing play for us," Leak said.

But the excitement was tempered when kicker Chris Hetland's extra point was blocked, giving the Gators a 6-0 lead with 12:16 remaining in the first quarter. The missed kick was Hetland's third in two games; he also missed two field goals against Tennessee. He later missed a second extra point.

The Florida defense was stellar, holding the Wildcats to 33 rushing yards in the first half and 39 for the game.

It sacked Woodson six times.