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Sheppard continues to amaze

By JOANNE KORTH and DEBI JONES

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 12, 2000


GAINESVILLE -- Florida sophomore Lito Sheppard has been dubbed "Lucky Lito" by teammates because of his penchant for making big plays, but he pushed his luck a bit Saturday against South Carolina.

And he still lucked out.

Sheppard returned a punt 57 yards for a touchdown with two seconds left in the first half. He was supposed to call for a fair catch because the Gators were trying to block the kick, not set up a return.

"I was supposed to call for a fair catch to get the offense out on the field," Sheppard said. "But it was a low kick. Then I thought about running out of bounds because time was running out. But I saw a seam on the outside, and I turned it upfield."

Florida coach Steve Spurrier called timeout with 19 seconds left, forcing South Carolina to punt from its 20-yard line. The Gators dropped no one back to block for Sheppard.

"We're all-out blocking it, and he returns it," defensive coordinator Jon Hoke said. "It was quite a play and a big momentum swing in the game."

RALLY TIME: Before Florida's 18-point comeback, the largest deficit erased in Spurrier's 11 seasons at Florida was 17 points in a 37-26 victory at South Carolina in 1993.

HOLTZ IN THE SWAMP: Before the game, Spurrier said he wanted a large crowd at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium so South Carolina coach Lou Holtz could see what the Swamp was like.

He got that; the third-largest crowd, 85,718, attended.

"This is a very difficult environment, and I finally understand why," Holtz said. "You play Florida in the Swamp. I think you can bring in other teams and it wouldn't be that hard."

RECORD-BREAKING: With his 70-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter, Jabar Gaffney set the NCAA record for receiving touchdowns by a freshman with 13. In addition, the play secured Gaffney's sixth consecutive 100-yard receiving game, tying him with Darrell Jackson (1999) and Carlos Alvarez (1969) for the UF record.

Gaffney's 168 yards put him at 1,005, making him the eighth Gator to break 1,000.

"Jabar catches about everything," Spurrier said. "And he gets open. He loves to play, and he loves to compete. He is just a good player with quick feet and good hands. He understands what we are trying to do."

CONSECUTIVE WINS: The Gators tied an SEC record for consecutive nine-win seasons with 11. Paul "Bear" Bryant of Alabama is the only other SEC coach to do so. ... Spurrier posted his eighth perfect season in the Swamp, and UF moved to 9-1 for the ninth time in his 11 seasons.

SENIORS HONORED: Before the game, the 15 Florida seniors were honored with their parents.

Among those honored were Palmetto native Rod Frazier, Bradenton native Leon Hires and Seminole native Eric Jonsson.

JACKSON'S FIRST START: Freshman Matt Jackson made his first start and caught one pass for 2 yards.

BLOCKED PUNT: South Carolina's touchdowns on blocked punts were the first against UF in 210 games. Mississippi State's Bobby Juckin returned a blocked punt for a 4-yard touchdown on Sept. 26, 1981.

SWAMP THINGS: Florida is 21-0 against SEC East opponents in the Swamp under Spurrier.

EXTRA POINTS: Florida is 54-20-1 in homecoming games and has won 12 straight. ... The Gators did not commit a turnover for the fourth game this season (Kentucky, Louisiana State and Auburn). ... Offensive lineman Tommy Moody became the 19th UF player to catch a pass this season, the 11th to catch a touchdown pass.

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