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Another heartbreak courtesy of Auburn

For the fifth time since '69, the Gators' first loss of a season comes to the Tigers, this time 27-17.

By ANTONYA ENGLISH
Published October 15, 2006


AUBURN, Ala. - With Auburn coming off an embarrassing loss to Arkansas at home last week, the billboard at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday night continuously flashed the motto of the Under Armour sportswear collection: "We Must Protect This House."

So it did.

And now you can add 2006 to the long legacy of heartbreak losses for Florida at the hands of Auburn.

The No. 11 Tigers rallied from a six-point halftime deficit to earn a 27-17 win over No. 2 and previously undefeated Florida in front of a sellout crowd of 87,451 at Pat Dye Field.

It's the fifth time Florida has entered a game against Auburn unbeaten and lost.

"We have to go home and keep our first-place standing (in the SEC East)," coach Urban Meyer said. "How do you do that? You have to get a lot better."

Florida (6-1, 4-1 SEC) struggled offensively for most of the second half, but its ultimate demise came at the expense of three costly mistakes. The Gators' final three possessions of the game ended in turnovers.

Trailing 18-17, Florida senior quarterback Chris Leak fumbled as he attempted a pass. Florida had third and 3 at the Tigers 6 when the fumble occurred.

Then after the Florida defense held and Auburn's John Vaughn missed a 45-yard field goal with 3:16 left, Florida had one last shot.

It failed again.

On the first play, Leak threw an interception to safety Eric Brock. The Tigers (6-1, 4-1) got a 39-yard field goal by Vaughn with 39 seconds left to take a 21-17 lead.

Auburn added six more on the game's final play, when the Gators attempted some trickery. Leak passed to Dallas Baker, who pitched it to Leak, who fumbled. The ball was scooped up by Patrick Lee, who ran into the end zone and the 27-17 win.

Auburn trailed 17-11 at halftime, but fewer than five minutes into the second half, the Tigers had taken a one-point lead.

Just as Florida did last week in its win over LSU, Auburn took advantage of the last five minutes of the first half and the first five minutes of the second half.

The Tigers put together a nine-play, 55-yard drive in the final four minutes of the half, culminating in a 34-yard field goal by Vaughn with 29 seconds left. It cut Florida's lead to six.

After Florida's second-half opening drive stalled, Auburn caught its big break. Gator punter Eric Wilbur fumbled the snap then tried to kick it. But Auburn's Jerraud Powers blocked it, and Tre Smith ran 15 yards for the touchdown and an 18-17 lead.

The Gators seemed to unravel after the blocked punt. Florida had 10 carries for no yards and 16 passing yards in the third quarter.

It was a stunning turn of events for the Gators, who had arguably one of their most impressive first halves on offense of the season.

Florida led by just six and had a season-low five completions. But its running game was as solid as it has been this season.

Florida rushed for 140 yards on 13 carries, more than its total in wins over Alabama and LSU. The Gators used four players to run, including senior DeShawn Wynn, who returned from a knee injury that caused him to miss the second half of one game and limited him to one play in another, and freshman Percy Harvin, who was at full speed for the first time since missing two games with a high ankle sprain.

Harvin had four carries for 72 yards in the first half, including one of the most spectacular plays of the season for UF. With first and 10 at the 49, Harvin ran one direction, got hit and seemed stopped before turning and running 35 yards in the other direction. The play set up a 16-yard touchdown run by freshman quarterback Tim Tebow to give Florida a 17-8 lead with 4:10 left.

The Gators had just 54 passing yards in the first half, but Leak was 4-of-5 with no interceptions.

Trailing 10-3, Auburn began what looked to be a tying drive. But a mistake kept the Tigers out of the end zone. Tight end Tommy Trot fumbled after catching a pass from Brandon Cox, and safety Tony Joiner recovered at the Gators 3.

But on the ensuing play, lineman Jim Tarrt was called for holding in the end zone, which resulted in a safety and two points for Auburn.