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Win, Gator style

As often the case this season, Florida's victory isn't pretty.

By ANTONYA ENGLISH
Published November 26, 2006


TALLAHASSEE - Florida had gone scoreless for nearly 23 minutes and allowed archrival Florida State to score 14 consecutive points to tie the score.

There was 14:27 remaining in the game. Fourteen minutes and 27 seconds standing between the Gators and an 11-1 season that would keep their slim BCS title hopes alive. Florida coach Urban Meyer called his players together and challenged them.

"Coach was saying the seniors need to step up and make a play," Dallas Baker said. "But not only the seniors, the wide receivers. So Chris Leak said he was going to throw the ball up, and I needed to make a play."

The senior quarterback threw it up, and the senior receiver made the play.

Leak's 25-yard pass and Baker's acrobatic catch over Tony Carter in the back corner of the end zone with 10:22 remaining sealed the No. 4 Gators' 21-14 victory over Florida State at Doak Campbell Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

"I thought I had a for-sure interception," Carter said. "I saw the ball all the way in the air. As soon as I looked up and he was right behind me, I lost the ball and he caught it. It was a great play by Dallas Baker."

The Gators collected their third consecutive win in the series for the first time since 1984-86 and moved to 11-1 for the first time since 1996 and third time in school history. The Gators play Arkansas on Saturday in the SEC championship game in Atlanta.

"We beat our rivals in a great game," said Meyer, Florida's third coach to win at Tallahassee in his first trip. "Give credit where credit is due. (FSU) was a team that was battling their hearts out with some terrific football players. It's a great win for Florida football."

Florida State (6-6) is expected to receive an invitation today to the Dec. 27 Emerald Bowl in San Francisco against Oregon, Arizona or Arizona State.

Florida capitalized on two big plays in the first half to take a 14-0 lead: a short pass Andre Caldwell turned into a 66-yard touchdown with 3:15 left in the first quarter and a 41-yard run by freshman receiver Percy Harvin, who took a direct snap from center. Harvin was injured later in the quarter and carried off the field with a neck injury but walked to the team bus after the game.

"(Harvin's injury) changed quite a bit," Meyer said. "That put us in reverse for a minute."

FSU had only 2 rushing yards and 53 passing yards in the first half. But while the Gators offense struggled in the second half, the Seminoles, who alternated between quarterbacks Xavier Lee and Drew Weatherford, picked things up.

Joe Surratt's 1-yard run with 5:20 left in the third pulled FSU within seven. Then with 14:27 left in the game, Weatherford connected on a 25-yard pass to Greg Carr to tie the score.

"The momentum kind of swung our way. And they took it right back like a good team is supposed to," said Weatherford, who was 16-of-37 for 181 yards and one touchdown. "They played really well and made more big plays then we did and less mistakes than we did. And that is why they won the game."

FSU had one last opportunity. But on fourth and 1 from the Florida 40 and 2:19 left, Weatherford's pass to Brandon Warren was incomplete.

"We had a dadgum good pass called, and we couldn't get it done," coach Bobby Bowden said.

Leak was 7-of-10 on Florida's final scoring drive, after Meyer told him he was putting the game in his hands.

"It was business as usual," Leak said. "Guys were giving me time to throw, and the wide receivers were getting open. Guys did a good job of executing and finding a way to win."

Leak, who joined Kerwin Bell as the only Florida starting quarterback to defeat FSU twice in Tallahassee, was 21-of-34 for 283 yards and two touchdowns. The Gators had 283 passing yards and 105 rushing. Florida held FSU to 46 rushing yards, the third consecutive season of 50 or fewer against it.

"That's what we expect out of this defense," senior end Steven Harris said. "I can't tell you how good it feels to beat Florida State one more time."

Antonya English can be reached at english @sptimes.com or (813) 226-3389.