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Freshman has big hand in win

[Times photo: Kevin White]
Florida coach Steve Spurrier has a heart-to-heart with quarterback Jesse Palmer (7). Palmer threw three touchdowns and ran for another.

By JOANNE KORTH and DEBI JONES

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 3, 2000


GAINESVILLE -- Freshman linebacker Travis Harris was not the most talked-about member of Florida's heralded 2000 recruiting class going into Saturday's opener.

But he made the biggest impact.

Harris, from Southwest Dekalb High in Decatur, Ga., forced a fumble early in the fourth quarter, thwarting a Ball State drive that could have cut the Gators' lead to seven.

"I just needed to make a play," said Harris, who was in the game because starting middle linebacker Andra Davis injured his left knee late in the first half. "I just stuck my hand in there."

Florida defensive end Arpedge Rolle fell on the loose ball at Florida's 12. Five plays later, quarterback Jesse Palmer hit Bo Carroll down the sideline for a 75-yard insurance touchdown that provided the final 40-19 margin.

"Travis Harris knocked that ball loose; that was a big play in the ball game," coach Steve Spurrier said. "He got a game ball for that."

IMMEDIATE IMPACT: Twelve members of UF's 2000 recruiting class were in uniform: quarterback Brock Berlin, receivers Carlos Perez and Kelvin Kight, tight end Ben Troupe, offensive linemen Max Starks and Shannon Snell, linebacker Harris, defensive tackle Ian Scott, defensive back Keiwan Ratliff and defensive ends Darrell Lee, Stone Pittman and Kennard Ellis.

Berlin, whom Gators fans have anointed as the quarterback of the future, was the only one of the 12 who did not play. With the game still in doubt, Palmer played late into the fourth quarter. Backup Rex Grossman played the final series, completing 2-of-4 for 32 yards.

DAVIS INJURED: An MRI exam was done on Davis' injured left knee Saturday night, and Spurrier said Davis likely will require surgery. He could miss the rest of the season.

SAFETY FIRST: Ball State's safety in the third quarter was the first recorded against Florida in 97 games, since Tennessee's Chuck Smith tackled quarterback Shane Matthews in the end zone Oct. 12, 1991. The safety was Ball State's first since 1996.

HOKE FACES ALMA MATER: Defensive coordinator Jon Hoke faced a familiar opponent. Hoke played for the Cardinals from 1976-79.

"After the season you probably have time to reflect on it," Hoke said. "But now, there is one objective, and that is to beat Ball State." FOR OPENERS: Florida is 70-24 in opening games, 52-6 in games played in Gainesville. The Gators are 11-0 in openers under Spurrier, with the last loss coming in 1989, 24-19 to Ole Miss.

FIRST TIMERS: Sophomore cornerback Lito Sheppard's interception on the final play of the first half was the first of his career. ... Tight end Kirk Wells' touchdown catch on the Gators' opening drive was his first. ... Taylor Jacobs set a career high with four catches for 42 yards. ... Carroll's 75-yard touchdown catch was the longest of his career.

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