Gators Win Again

Florida holds off a late surge from No. 11 Arkansas to escape with its first back-to-back wins of the season....

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- If ever Florida's football team could use a week to exhale, if ever the Gators needed to focus on something other than the field, this was it.

No doubt about it. It's an appropriate time for the restless Ron Zook to finally take a rest.

Two improbable wins, three dreadful losses and the funkiest of fourth quarters culminated into one long collective gasp of breath Saturday. And it ended with the unranked Gators -- in a 33-28 win at No. 11 Arkansas – living to play another week.

In front of 73,934 fans at Razorback Stadium, Florida (5-3, 3-2) survived Arkansas' 21-point fourth-quarter surge to escape with its first back-to-back wins of the season.

"I'm ready for a nap," said offensive tackle Max Starks, whose team will have a bye Saturday. "A couple days off are much warranted. It's a chance for some of these guys to exhale for a minute."

As the Gators enter their break period, a 3-3 team that seemed destined for disaster two weeks ago has emerged as a newfound force in the SEC East. However, once Florida finishes basking in its victory, the grind will resume. No. 4 Georgia looms next on the schedule.

"That game was a lot more interesting than it needed to be," Zook said. "But we realize there's a lot of football left to be played. It's only been eight weeks."

And after a bizarre finish to an otherwise clean performance, it's clear the Gators still have plenty to improve on.

As Florida cornerback Keiwan Ratliff picked off his third interception and drove into the endzone for a 32-7 lead, it seemed as if the final minutes would be a breeze.

But there was Zook, slamming his cup full of water to the ground, storming the sidelines to rally his players. The Gators' coach must've known.

He must have anticipated three touchdown passes from Arkansas quarterback Matt Jones.

What no one anticipated – not even Zook – was the way Florida would hold onto the lead. Breaking for the sideline, true freshman quarterback threw a pass to covert a game-ending first down. The pass was intercepted by Arkansas.

However, Arkansas' Tony Bua hit Leak after he'd thrown the ball, drawing a personal foul call because of head-to-head contact. Florida picked up a first down, allowing the offense to run out the clock.

"They were cheapshotting him all day," Starks said. "They just need to be respectful. The officials were watching for that."

The call caused the stadium to erupt in boos as several fans heaved drinks and concessions onto the field.

But the reaction wouldn't change the outcome. It wouldn't change the fact that Florida had ruled Arkansas all game.

Leak, who finished Saturday's game 20-for-34 with 269 yards successfully sliced away at Arkansas' deep secondary, allowing the running game to pound away for 142 yards. Nine different receivers caught passes, allowing him to become the first true freshman in school history to win back-to-back games.

"No matter what happens you have to keep playing your game," Leak said. "Arkansas proved that today when they came back. We knew they were going to being pressure, but fortunately we were successful."

Providing the offense with two critical touchdowns, Ciatrick Fason picked up 130 total yards on offense in his first career start.

But it was the play of cornerback Keiwan Ratliff that lifted the Gators to the win. All three of the senior's interceptions resulted in scores. He essentially earned Florida 17 points as the following drives finished with a 39-yard field goal from Matt Leach and a 17-yard touchdown run from DeShawn Wynn.

"He's playing on emotion out there," Zook said. "He's really steady right now. He's taking action now and making the big plays."

Jones went 18-of-27 for a career-high 282 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. But the Razorbacks' running game suffered severely as they lost the SEC's leading running back, Cedric Cobbs, because of a right hamstring pull late in the first half. Cobbs finished with 85 yards on 15 carries, including a seven-yard TD that gave Arkansas a 7-0 lead.

"Our guys deserve a break," Zook said. "They need to let their heads clear this week and not even think about football."

Georgia must lose two more games, including its Oct. 30 showdown against Florida, if the Gators are going to have a chance at the SEC East championship.


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