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Gators assume control

With Alex Brown coming up big, Florida dumps Georgia to stay on track in the SEC East.

[Times photo: Kevin White]
The Gator defense celebrates a late Georgia turnover that helped preserve the Florida victory.

By JOANNE KORTH

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 29, 2000


JACKSONVILLE -- More than 20 years later, Florida fans still flinch when they hear the names Georgia's Buck Belue and Lindsay Scott. They still shudder at the thought of "fourth and dumb." Now, maybe Georgia can relate.

Years from now, Bulldogs fans will think back to 2000 and associate one name with the Southeastern Conference championship that got away. They will be haunted by Florida's Alex Brown.

Brown made two key plays that resulted in fourth-quarter turnovers -- a forced fumble and tipped pass that was intercepted -- as No. 8 Florida beat No. 13 Georgia 34-23 in a critical conference game in front of 84,404 at Alltel Stadium on Saturday.

"Not many people thought we were going to win this game," said Brown, a junior defensive end. "But we knew we could do it. If Georgia fans remember me, it means I'm doing something right."

Florida (7-1, 5-1) assumes sole possession of first place in the league's Eastern Division, but must win at Vanderbilt on Saturday to set up a winner-take-all showdown with No. 17 South Carolina (7-2, 5-2) on Nov. 11 in Gainesville.

Preseason favorites to win the East, the Bulldogs (6-2, 4-2) are out of the race by virtue of losses to South Carolina and Florida.

"We had our chances," Georgia coach Jim Donnan said.

Georgia dominated the series in the 1970s and '80s, winning in a variety of ways. In 1976, Florida allowed a second-half UGa comeback by failing to convert fourth and 1 from its 29. In 1980, Scott took a short pass from Belue and raced 93 yards for the winning score.

But Florida is in control now, having won 10 of 11 since Steve Spurrier returned to coach his alma mater in 1990. And Brown has left an indelible mark, with two sacks, an interception and a forced fumble in last season's 30-14 victory, and with two big plays Saturday.

Trailing 27-23, Georgia was driving for a potential go-ahead touchdown when Brown and freshman Clint Mitchell combined to sack quarterback Quincy Carter. Brown's hit jarred the ball loose, and UF safety Guss Scott recovered at the Georgia 29.

Florida went straight for the kill.

Quarterback Rex Grossman hit Reche Caldwell with a 27-yard pass to the 2, and Robert Gillespie ran it in on the next play for an 11-point lead with 4:42 left.

Any Georgia hope of staging a dramatic comeback was thwarted when Brown got his fingertips on a Carter pass, deflecting it high into the air and allowing linebacker Bam Hardmon to make a diving interception at the UF 16 with 1:15 left.

"The wins are special to us because it keeps us in the hunt for the SEC," Spurrier said. "And it's good to beat a team that beat us so many times."

In a game that featured eight turnovers -- four per team -- two missed extra points, four quarterbacks, 487 passing yards and a 54-yard field goal, Brown was not the only player to leave his mark on this 85-year-old rivalry. Some famously, some infamously.

Florida trailed 17-9 after committing four first-half turnovers. Grossman, brilliant in starts against LSU and Auburn, was intercepted on his first two attempts and threw a third midway through the second quarter.

He was replaced by senior Jesse Palmer, who fumbled the exchange on his second snap. The turnovers led to all of Georgia's 17 first-half points.

The Bulldogs might have taken a bigger lead into the locker room were it not for cornerback Lito Sheppard, who intercepted Carter at the UF 12 and wove his way through blockers and would-be tacklers to the Georgia 26. Four plays later, Palmer hit Gillespie for a 14-yard touchdown for a 17-17 halftime tie.

"That was the turning point of the game," Brown said of Sheppard's interception. "They were on their way to at least three points and instead we get a touchdown. We were very fortunate to be tied at halftime."

[Times photo: Kevin White]
UF's Tron LaFavor (98) and Bennie Alexander (30) unend Georgia's Musa Smith.

The Gators got the lead for good three minutes into the third quarter when Jeff Chandler kicked the longest field goal of his career. The 54-yarder put Florida ahead 20-17.

Seven minutes later, Palmer's 1-yard run gave the Gators a 27-17 lead, but his hero status was cut short on the next series. Sacked by Will Witherspoon, Palmer left the game with a sprained right ankle.

Assuming the role of scapegoat was Carter, who admitted in the preseason he passed on the NFL in large part because he wanted to beat Florida.

Roughed up by the Gators, Carter was 20 of 30 for 240 yards and one touchdowns, but was sacked three times and intercepted three times in his third loss in a row to UF. Florida hit Carter hard and often, knocking him from the game for a play in the second quarter,

"I took a pretty good beating back there," Carter said.

And in the history books, because whenever fans mention Carter's name in relation to the Florida-Georgia game, it will be coupled with Brown's.

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