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September 16, 2006
Florida comes out of Knoxville with a 21-20 win
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -Another Florida coach has Tennessee's number.
Coach Urban Meyer's first trip to Neyland Stadium as Florida head coach was a success, and he made it two straight against the Vols. Not even Steve Spurrier, who was 8-4 against UT when he was at Florida, started 2-0 against the Vols as Gators coach.
The No. 7 Gators (3-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) preserved the victory when Reggie Nelson got his second interception of the game after Tennessee went for it on fourth down at the Florida 45.
Then all the Gators needed was another first down, and they got it by inches on third down with 1:22 remaining.
Meyer became the first Florida coach to beat Tennessee in his first two tries since Galen Hall. And Meyer joins Spurrier, Georgia's Mark Richt and Tommy Tuberville as the only coaches to beat Tennessee's Phillip Fulmer in back-to-back seasons. The Gators won last year at The Swamp 16-7.
Florida stuffed the Volunteers' running game and pressured Erik Ainge all night, and not even an emotional final game by defensive tackle Justin Harrell could provide the lift Tennessee (2-1, 0-1) needed to beat its bitter rivals.
Leak played in his final game in Neyland, where he often came to watch his older brother C.J. play, and managed the game well while his freshman backup Tim Tebow provided a lift all seven times he entered the game. Leak finished 15-of-25 for 199 yards with one interception.
Tennessee was held to minus-11 yards rushing, and Ainge struggled in going 17-of-32 for 183 yards.
The loss for Tennessee is sure to get the negative talk going again about Fulmer's future. The Vols finished last year 5-6, and had fans temporarily happy with two wins to open the season. Now Tennessee is in catch-up mode in the SEC East.
Florida fans stayed to celebrate after the game ended while Tennessee fans - very accustomed to seeing this result - filed out silently.
Trailing by six, Florida regained the lead with 6:30 to go on Leak's 21-yard pass to Baker. The drive was kept alive by Tebow's running ability. After Leak slid a yard short of the first down on the previous play, Tebow ran for 2 yards to the Tennessee 26.
The Vols went up 20-14 with 10:49 to go in the fourth quarter when James Wilhoit made a 51-yard field goal, tying his career long.
Harrell started and played most of the game with a ruptured tendon in his left biceps, an injury suffered last week. Team officials had said he would miss the rest of the season. But after he was cleared by doctors, Harrell said he would play one more game.
Florida scored first when Jemalle Cornelius caught a 21-yard pass from Leak and then dove toward the cone at the front corner of the end zone. The officials reviewed it, but upheld the score.
A 36-yard field goal by Wilhoit and a trick play for a 48-yard touchdown pass put the Vols ahead 10-7. Ainge handed off to Lucas Taylor, who passed the ball to LaMarcus Coker as he was streaking uncovered to the end zone.
Tennessee extended its lead to 17-7 on Montario Hardesty's 1-yard plunge. But the Vols' lead never seemed solid.
Leak connected with Baker for a 4-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter to cut it to 17-14. The Gators started the possession when Tennessee could not convert a first down after Ainge made a dangerous toss from his own end zone to avoid a sack and safety.
The second quarter turned even more hectic after both teams had back-to-back touchdowns erased by penalties.
Florida's Brandon James zig-zagged down the field for what would have been a 90-yard punt returned for a touchdown, but it was called back because of an illegal block.
On the Gators' ensuing snap, Tennessee's Marvin Mitchell intercepted a pass from Leak and returned it to the end zone, but the Vols were called for roughing the passer.