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Gators: Pick us!

After winning its first SEC title since 2000, Florida pleads its case for shot at title.

By ANTONYA ENGLISH
Published December 3, 2006


ATLANTA - The banner Jason Watkins and Eric Rutledge carried around the Georgia Dome field Saturday night pretty much summed it up for long-suffering Florida fans.

"UF: Back Where We Belong."

After six seasons, Florida is once again SEC champion.

The team that hadn't scored more than 28 points against an SEC opponent all season somehow managed to put together the game of the year - when it counted most.

Aided by trick plays, blocked punts and the spectacular play of freshman Percy Harvin, the Gators took a 17-point lead, lost it, then rallied for a 38-28 victory over SEC West champ Arkansas in front of 73,374 at the Georgia Dome.

Florida's victory, coupled with UCLA's 13-9 upset over previous BCS No. 2 USC, could put the Gators in the BCS national championship game on Jan. 8, if the Gators can overtake No. 3 Michigan when the BCS standings are released today.

"I certainly do," Florida coach Urban Meyer said when asked if the Gators should be in the national championship game. "Florida deserves a shot. ... I have great confidence that the University of Florida is going to get that opportunity."

Florida 12-1 led by 17 with 4:02 remaining in the first half, but it allowed Arkansas to score 21 unanswered points within a span of 6 minutes, 27 seconds.

Arkansas took a 21-17 lead with 8:33 remaining in the game when defensive end Antwain Robinson intercepted a Chris Leak pass and returned it 43 yards for a touchdown.

From there, it was a shootout to the finish.

Florida's Wondy Pierre-Louis recovered a fumbled punt by Reggie Fish in the end zone to give the Gators a 24-21 lead with 3:47 remaining in the third quarter.

With 14:22 remaining, Harvin broke off a 67-yard run to give Florida a 31-21 lead.

"We were challenged to beat man-to-man coverage, and we knew once I made one man miss there was nobody back in the secondary," said Harvin, the game's MVP who had six carries for 105 yards and also had a 37-yard touchdown reception.

"Michigan already had its chance," said Harvin, referring to the Wolverines' lone loss, which was to Ohio State. "I think we deserve a chance."

Leak threw two interceptions on the first two series of the second half.

"As a quarterback, you have to have a short memory," said Leak, who was 16-for-30 for 189 yards. "I looked to my teammates, and guys kept encouraging me."

The Gators, who had been accused of having the most anemic offense of any 11-1 team in the nation, pulled out all the stops for this one, including a fake punt from their own 15-yard line late in the third quarter and two trick plays for touchdowns.

"I think you saw us shoot everything we've got," Meyer said. "I've always been one of those coaches that believe I'd have a hard time facing a team if they realize we didn't shoot everything we had to win the game."

"That has to be one of the greatest football games as far as momentum shifts," he added.

Meyer was asked after the game if this victory meant Florida football is back.

"We have a long way to bring it back," he said. "The '90s set the standard."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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