SEC Classic Ends In Another Arkansas Loss

ATLANTA -- Arkansas offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn removed his red visor, glanced back at the celebration under way and kept on walking.

Quarterback Casey Dick, meanwhile, didn't bother taking off his helmet on his way past the flying silver confetti and dancing Florida players behind him. Several of his teammates did the same. Saturday's Southeastern Conference Championship game in front of a crowd of 73,374 proved to be an instant classic. But for the No. 8 Razorbacks, it ended in another emotional loss that included too many missed opportunities for an injured Darren McFadden to overcome. Arkansas (10-3, 7-2 SEC) came to Atlanta hoping to win its first SEC championship in its third appearance in the conference title game. But instead the players strolled out of the Georgia Dome as the No. 4 Gators celebrated a 38-28 win and a potential trip to the national championship game. "Somebody has to win. Somebody has to lose," Arkansas wide receiver Marcus Monk said. "Unfortunately, we lost." Arkansas and Florida (12-1, 8-1) went back and forth throughout much of the night, running trick plays, taking advantage of each other's mistakes and trading the momentum throughout a second half that saw the two teams combine to score 42 points. The game included everything from Arkansas defensive end Antwain Robinson returning an interception 40 yards for a touchdown to three players who aren't quarterbacks throwing touchdown passes. The Razorbacks erased a 17-point first-half lead, only to let the Gators build most of it back up thanks to a muffed punt by Reggie Fish that led to a touchdown and a few more miscues down the stretch. "Just a couple of mistakes here and there would have changed the outcome of the game," Arkansas defensive end Jamaal Anderson said. As a result, Arkansas again came up on the losing end against Florida in the SEC Championship Game. In 1995, the Gators cruised to a 34-3 in the most lopsided win in the history of the title game. Arkansas coach Houston Nutt also lost 30-3 to Georgia in his only other appearance in the SEC Championship in 2002. This one was much closer than the previous two blowouts. "The first time we came here (in 2002), I just felt like we were just glad to be here," Nutt said. "(But) we came to win the (SEC) trophy. Our guys came to win the trophy, and it wasn't 30-3 in the years past. "The last two times Arkansas has played here, it wasn't a ball game. It was a real ball game tonight." The Razorbacks were hoping to be crowned the SEC champions and earn the chance to play in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 3. But instead they'll have to wait until later today to find out where they'll be playing on New Year's Day. They could either earn an invite to the Capital One Bowl in Orlando or the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. "I just think this team deserves the best, the best available because they deserve it -- Jan. 1" Nutt said. "A Jan. 1 bowl, they deserve it." Florida, meanwhile, entered Saturday with the hopes of improving its standing in the national championship race. And the Gators made a strong case, especially after UCLA's 13-9 win over previously No. 2 Southern California. Freshman Percy Harvin, the game's most valuable player, gained a total of 167 yards and two touchdowns. Quarterback Chris Leak finally gave something to silence his critics by winning his first SEC title on 16 of 30 passing for 189 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. And most importantly, Florida's defense held McFadden to just 73 yards and no touchdowns on 21 carries. McFadden, who could be in New York City as a Heisman Trophy finalist a week from Saturday, was slowed down by an injured ankle suffered when he was dragged to the ground following an 8-yard catch early in the second quarter. "I wasn't going to use it as an excuse ..., but ya'll know Darren McFadden wasn't the same from the first quarter on," Nutt said. But it won't make what happened Saturday any easier for him and the rest of the Razorbacks to handle.

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