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Looking to avoid UT win

By JOANNE KORTH

Revised September 19, 2000

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 14, 2000


GAINESVILLE -- Two years have done nothing to dull the memories of Florida players forced to wade through thousands of boisterous Tennessee fans after the Volunteers' 20-17 overtime victory at Neyland Stadium in 1998.

"Man, I'll never forget that," senior receiver Alex Willis said. "The crowd rushed the field, and they were calling us losers and "Welcome to the Citrus Bowl,' and all this kind of stuff. That's one thing I never want to go through again, especially up there."

Neyland Stadium seats 104,079, but holds a few thousand more for big games like Saturday's SEC showdown between No. 6 Florida and No. 11 Tennessee. The ESPN Gameday set will be just outside, adding to the fever-pitch atmosphere.

"They are going to be screaming and singing that old crazy song, you know, Rocky Top," junior defensive tackle Gerard Warren said.

In 1998, Florida committed five turnovers and missed an overtime field goal to give the Vols their first victory in the series after five consecutive defeats. Eager to vent years of frustration, fans poured onto the field.

"Those people up there acted like they'd won a national championship, which, I guess in their eyes, it kind of felt like a national championship game to them," senior defensive end Thaddeus Bullard said. "It was embarrassing."

Said junior defensive end Alex Brown: "There were things flying, beer flying, people yelling at you, spitting at you -- it was awful. Beating the Gators was a big thing there. We want to let them know they will not be celebrating this year."

Florida has won seven of 10, including six of seven against Tennessee. But none of Florida's current players has experienced victory at Neyland Stadium.

"It's going to be pretty loud," Willis said. "The fans are going to be screaming and jumping around early. But if we come out and execute, I think we can kind of quiet them down."

GOAL-POST TRIBUTE: Coach Steve Spurrier has a different perspective on rowdy post-game celebrations.

"If they tear down the goal posts when they beat the Gators, that's, to me, a compliment," Spurrier said. "I'm sure New Mexico State felt the same way when South Carolina beat them. They said, "Wow, we're pretty good. They tore down the poles when they beat us.' That's one way of looking at it, I guess."

VOLLEYBALL: Since dropping its first two matches of the season to then-No. 13 Colorado State and then-No. 2 Penn State, the Gators have won five straight. They are ranked No. 12 in the American Volleyball Coaches Association poll after victories against UNLV, Ball State, then-No. 16 Wisconsin, George Washington and Cal-Berkeley.

UF continues to play without senior middle blocker Heather Wright, the nation's most efficient hitter last season, sidelined because of tendinitis in her right hitting shoulder. Wright will not play this weekend, when UF hosts Wake Forest, Florida Atlanta and No. 8 Pepperdine.

SOCCER: The Gators (2-4) will look to snap a three-match losing streak against No. 13 Southern California at 8 p.m. Friday at Percy Beard Stadium in Gainesville.

The losing streak, which dropped Florida from all five national ranking services, began when it started a seven-game stretch against nationally ranked opponents. It is the longest in UF soccer history, and four losses match the most in a season for the Gators, who were 14-4-2 in their inaugural 1995 season.

-- Contact Gators beat writer Joanne Korth at (800) 333-7505, ext. 7306, or by e-mail at Korth@sptimes.com.

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