JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Fred Gibson promised Georgia fans a really big game. He didn't deliver.
Beating the Gators is All that Mattered
It was Georgia's first win over Florida since 1997 and just the second time in 15 years the Bulldogs have left Jacksonville with a smile. In case no one believes Georgia's players, they have plenty of witnesses. The largest crowd in Alltel Stadium history, 84,753, saw the game.
"I'm so happy for the players and the coaches and anybody who's ever wanted to succeed at Georgia," said Coach Mark Richt, who was soaked twice with drink buckets by his players after the game. "It's been a long time coming. A lot of people have been through a lot of pain and suffering, and they finally get to enjoy it."
Georgia improved to 7-1 overall and 5-1 in the SEC but didn't gain any ground in the league championship chase.
That's because No. 11 Tennessee beat South Carolina 43-29 in an early game Saturday, which all but ended the Bulldogs chances of going to the SEC Championship Game for the third season in a row. For that to happen, the Volunteers must lose another SEC game, and they have just Kentucky and Vanderbilt remaining on their conference schedule.
The Gators fell to 4-4 overall and 2-4 in the SEC and failed to get the win they craved for Coach Ron Zook, who was fired Monday and decided to finish out the season.
"It hurt not to get the victory for Coach Zook," said running back Ciatrick Fason, who had 139 yards on 17 carries. "Coach wanted us to come out here and leave everything on the field. We did that."
Both teams played most of the game without their best defensive players. Florida lost linebacker Channing Crowder, the SEC's tackle leader, on the second series of the game to a sprained foot. Georgia lost safety Thomas Davis midway through the second quarter with knee and ankle sprains.
And both defenses looked like they were playing shorthanded. Georgia had 405 yards of offense and scored touchdowns on its first three possessions to take a 21-7 lead. Only a fumble by Greene on Florida's 1-yard line kept Georgia from going ahead 28-7 at halftime.
The Bulldogs made their lead 24-7 when Andy Bailey hit a 40-yard field goal with 6:52 left in the third quarter.
Then the Gators, who finished with 458 yards of total offense, made their charge. Andre Caldwell caught a 57-yard touchdown pass with 4:29 left in the third quarter, and fullback Billy Latsko caught a 3-yard touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter to pull Florida within three points at 24-21.
That's when Georgia, powered by three of its seniors, made its biggest offensive drive of the season. The Bulldogs took over at their 15-yard line with 12:20 left. Greene found senior receiver Reggie Brown for a 51-yard reception on the first play of the drive. Brown caught another pass for 14 yards later in the drive.
Senior Fred Gibson capped it by snatching the ball out of a Florida defender's hands for a 15-yard touchdown.
"The whole week we talked about winning this game for the seniors," Gibson said.
Freshman Danny Ware helped the cause by rushing for 103 yards on 18 carries.
"We survived is what we did," Richt said.
The Bulldogs now head off to play Kentucky in Lexington on Saturday, but no one was thinking about that the future after this game. They were only enjoying the present and, in some cases, remembering the past.
"We had a lot of great guys, Tim Wansley, Jermaine Phillips, Tony Gilbert, Boss Bailey, a lot of great players that came through this place and didn't win this game," senior linebacker Arnold Harrison said.
"I just want to say this is for all of us. We're all Georgia Bulldogs, and we finally got them."
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