In arguably the most exciting game ever played in LSU's storied Tiger Stadium in front of the largest crowd in its history, the No. 1-ranked LSU Tigers overcame a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat ninth-ranked Florida, 28-24, in front of record 92,910 emotionally spent fans.
Hester crossed the south endzone goal line with 1:09 remaining in the contest to give LSU its first lead of the game. LSU placekicker Colt David added the extra point after Hester was helped off the field by the Tiger medical staff after he laid exhausted on the turf and while the hometown crowd chanted his name following the touchdown.
The win improved LSU's record to 6-0 overall, 3-0 in the Southeastern Conference, and sealed a No.1 ranking in both the Associated Press and Coaches polls. USC, which entered Saturday ranked No.1 by the coaches, lost to one-win Stanford 24-23 at home.
Florida, the defending National Champions fell to 4-2 overall, and an improbable 2-2 in the knock-down, drag out SEC.
Florida takes a week off before traveling to Lexington in two weeks.
The Tigers trailed 24-14 at the beginning of the fourth quarter but found the guts to muster a 4-yard touchdown pass from Matt Flynn to Demetrius Byrd with 10:15 left in the game on an improbable fourth-down play. The touchdown capped a 5-play, 27-yard drive that was started thanks to an interception of a tipped Tim Tebow pass by defensive end Kirtson Pittman at the Florida 27.
Hester's score was the last play in a stomach-wrenching, nerve-racking drive that featured two fourht-and-1 running plays to extend the Tigers advance. Hester carried the ball on both plays, picking up a first down with a 2-yard run from the LSU 49 and then two more yards eight plays later at the Florida 7-yard line.
LSU trailed by 10 points at the end of the second and third quarters and managed the come-from-behind win despite missing two field goals.
The Tigers amassed 247 yards on the ground thanks to Hester's career-high performance, 46 yards from Keiland Williams, 33 yards from Trindon Holiday, 30 yards from Flynn and 23 yards from back-up quarterback Ryan Perrilloux.
Flynn led the LSU passing attack, completing 14-of-27 passes for 144 yards, the touchdown to Byrd and an early interception. But, perhaps Flynn's biggest play of the game was a 15-yard scramble on third-and-16 in LSU's winning scoring drive that gave Hester the chance to pick up the first down near midfield on fourth-and-1.
Florida's unquestionable leader was Tebow, who lived up to his billing as one of college football's best players by rushing for 67 yards on 16 carries and a touchdown. He also threw for 158 yards on 12-of-26 passing and two touchdowns, but one very costly interception that careened off tight end Cornelius Ingram.
Florida's rushing leader was Kestahn Moore who gained 79 yards on 12 carries but also cost his team by fumbling at midfield late in the third quarter when the Gators led by 10.
LSU trailed 17-7 at halftime but embarked on a lengthy drive after taking the opening kick of the second half to score its second touchdown of the game. Williams penetrated the Gators defense from four yards out with 7:49 to play in the third quarter to cap the 16-play, 70-yard drive that was extended by another Tigers trick-bag play on a field goal.
Flynn knelt to hold the possible field goal at the Florida 36 on the 11th play of the drive. But, instead of placing the ball, he bounced it off the turf and took off running through the right side of the Gators field-goal defense for eight yards to give LSU a first down at the Florida 17. The touchdown cut the Florida lead to 17-14 as the crowd erupted.
The Gators capped the eruption five plays later though, as Tebow found a wide open Ingram behind the defense for a 37-yard touchdown pass with 5:14 remaining in the third quarter. The quick strike came at the end of the game's second-shortest scoring drive time-wise, a 75-yard dash that lasted just 2:27 and extended the Gator lead back to 10 at 24-14.
LSU's offense failed to respond with a score after moving into Florida territory on the ensuing possession and the Tigers punted back to Florida, giving the Gator offense a chance to start at its 20-yard line.
Florida steadily moved to near midfield in six plays, but turned the ball over at the 50-yard line when Moore fumbled on a first-down run. LSU's Ali Highsmith jumped on the bounding football, giving LSU's offense a chance to cut the lead back to a one-score advantage.
The Tigers had their chance after advancing to the Florida 19-yard line in five plays. But, David missed a field goal try from 36 yards with 12:52 remaining in the game and the Gators lead remained intact.
Two plays later, Tebow was intercepted at his own 27 leading to the LSU score.
Florida appeared to start its next drive at its 25-yard line after returner
Brandon James danced up the east sideline after catching the kick at the 10-yard
line. But, LSU coach Les Miles challenged the play, questioning
if James actually stepped out inside the 15-yard line. Replay showed he did and
the ball was moved back to the Gator 14. Florida managed just six yards in the
next three plays and punted back to LSU at the Tiger 40-yard line setting up the
Florida claimed the opening kick and spread the Tiger defense out with five-receiver sets throughout the first drive and most of the game. The Gators started at their 39 and drove to the Tiger 15-yard line in nine plays before Highsmith stepped in front of a third-down Tebow pass and limited the Gators to a field goal attempt. Joey Ijjas kicked the 31-yard attempt through the uprights in the south endzone to give the Gators a 3-0 advantage with 11:19 remaining in the quarter.
The Gators got another chance just three plays later when Flynn threw behind a wide open Brandon LaFell near midfield. LaFell tipped the ball in the air, giving Gator cornerback Joe Haden the chance to haul in the tipped pass at his 45 and advance it to the LSU 45. But, the Tiger defense responded to the offensive gaff and limited the Gators to just one yard on the ensuing drive, forcing a punt.
LSU's offense was hindered by another dropped pass its next drive, forcing LSU to punt as it neared its own 40. Florida took over at its 23 and advanced steadily down the field in 12 plays for its second score of the game, this one of the seven-point variety. Tebow scrambled left from the LSU 2-yard line and lobbed a left-handed pass to Moore who was standing just across the goal line. The touchdown ran the score to 10-0 Florida with 13:45 left in the first half after the 67-yard, 7:03 drive.
The Tiger offense responded on the ensuing drive and instead of dropping passes, LSU's receivers reeled in four passes while the Tiger rushing attack carried the rest of the load including the last yard of an 80-yard drive that lasted 16 plays. Perrilloux was responsible for that 80th yard, taking a quarterback keeper across the goal line on 4th-and-goal at the Gator 1-yard line. David's point after cut the Florida lead to 10-7 with 6:08 remaining in the half after the clock-decimating 7:37 drive.
But Florida punched right back, taking the next drive straight at the Tiger defense over the next 10 plays led by the tough running of Tebow. The Gator signal caller carried the ball on six plays of the drive, including its last, a 9-yard scamper through a spread out LSU defense. The point after ran the score to 17-7 Gators with 2:23 remaining in the half.
LSU drove the ball to the Florida 26 in response with 28 seconds remaining in the half, but the Gator defense stiffened, holding LSU to a 43-yard field goal attempt by David that he missed wide left.
The Gators capped the eruption five plays later though, as Tebow found a wide open Ingram behind the defense for a 37-yard touchdown pass with 5:14 remaining in the third quarter. The quick strike came at the end of the game's shortest scoring drive, 75-yard scamper that lasted just 2:27 and extended the Gator lead back to 10 at 24-14.
LSU's offense failed to respond with a score after moving into Florida territory on the ensuing possession and the Tigers punted back to Florida, giving the Gator offense a chance to start at its 20 yard line.
The Tigers had their chance after advancing to the Florida 19-yard line in five plays. But, David missed another field goal try, this time from 36 yards out with 12:52 remaining in the game and the Gator lead remained intact.