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Georgia knocks Gators flat, turns SEC upside down

November 2, 1997

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) _ He had helped Georiga win the game and helped carry coach Jim Donnan off the field. Before Hines Ward ducked under the tunnel, he looked back across the field and saw work left to be done.

Ward jogged slowly around the west half of the stadium still jam-packed with fans clad in red, jumping to slap hands and soaking up the Bulldogs’ 37-17 victory over Florida.

``Our fans have been coming down here for seven years and leaving empty-handed,″ Ward said Saturday night. ``I was feeling sorry for them. But we finally ended the drought.″

For the first time since 1989, it was happy hour for the Dawgs at the ``World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.″

Talk about two-for-one specials.

Georgia not only beat the Gators, it dropped them from No. 6 to 13th in the poll and most likely knocked them clear out of the Southeastern Conference race.

The Gators’ second loss in three games means No. 8 Tennessee and No. 9 Georgia will each have to lose for them to have a chance to go for a record-tying fifth straight SEC title.

And even if that were to happen, there’s no guarantee Florida (6-2, 4-2 SEC) can win the remainder of its games.

Just like the loss at LSU, the Gators had four interceptions and failed to throw for a touchdown. Two touchdown passes were dropped. Two fourth-down plays in Georgia territory were stopped.

``It was one of those nights, and those usually don’t happen to the Gators,″ coach Steve Spurrier said. ``It has happened a few times to us now. If something can go wrong, it goes wrong.″

So complete was the win by Georgia (7-1, 5-1) that quarterback Mike Bobo had three interceptions in the first half alone and the Bulldogs still took a 14-3 halftime lead.

So dominant was the Bulldogs’ front line that Robert Edwards became the first running back all season to go over 100 yards against a defense that had been ranked second nationally against the run.

So sweet was the victory that the Bulldogs didn’t want to leave the field.

``When you get something you haven’t experience, you want it so bad that you blow up so to the point it can no longer meet your expectations,″ offensive tackle Matt Stinchcomb said. ``With three minutes to go, it hit me like a ton of bricks. It lived up to everything I thought it would.″

By the end of the game, Florida’s half of the stadium was virtually empty. The Gator faithful had headed for home about the time Edwards scampered down the left sideline on a 37-yard run for his fourth rushing touchdown of the game, tying a school record.

Even at the start of the game, there were signs Florida would have its hands full.

Already missing one linebacker to injury, outside linebacker Johnny Rutledge was on his knees on the sideline, still feeling the effects of food poisoning. By the end of the half, two more linebackers _ Mike Peterson and Dwayne Thomas _ were out with injuries.

But Florida’s problems are all about offense.

Quarterback Doug Johnson, starting his first game since being suspended for missing curfew, had two interceptions and was benched at halftime. Noah Brindise led two touchdown drives before he threw an interception, and Canadian freshman Jesse Palmer either bounced balls at his receivers’ feet or threw in the Bulldogs’ directions.

``We messed up thinking we could throw the ball around like we used to but we can’t do it,″ Spurrier said. ``I’m almost convinced we can’t do it.″

Georgia’s defense had a lot to do with that. The Dawgs only had one sack, but they caused the pocket to collapse on almost every passing play. They had four interceptions and dropped three others.

``We got more pressure on the quarterback and more break on the ball,″ Donnan said.

Best of all, they have Ward, one of the most versatile players in the country.

Ward completed one pass for 27 yards on third down that led to the Bulldogs’ first touchdown. Of his receptions for 85 yards, two resulted in a critical first downs that led to a field goal to give Georgia a 24-17 lead.

He also lined up at quarterback and ran five times for 21 yards, three resulting in third-down conversions on either option keepers or the quarterback draw.

``He did a great job of making the clutch plays,″ Donnan said.

He made the kind of plays any number of Gators used to make. Instead, a Florida team that was ranked No. 1 only a month ago is beginning to look extremely ordinary.

``We’re horrible right now,″ cornerback Fred Weary said.

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