Gators Secure Share of SEC East Title
Nov. 15, 2003
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) _ Ciatrick Fason ran for a career-high 190 yards, and No. 15 Florida beat South Carolina 24-22 on Saturday for a share of the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division title.
Chris Leak scored on a 9-yard run and threw a 7-yard TD pass to Ben Troupe to help the Gators (8-3, 6-2) rally from a 16-7 halftime deficit for their 13th straight win over the Gamecocks.
While they'll do no worse than a tie with Tennessee and Georgia for first in the division, the Gators will need a lot of help to advance to the SEC title game for the first time under coach Ron Zook.
First, the Gators needed to win at Williams-Brice Stadium, which they did _ barely.
South Carolina's Dondrial Pinkins scored on a 5-yard run with 10:04 to go to get within 24-22. The Gamecocks (5-6, 2-6) tried to run Pinkins again on the 2-point try, but defensive tackle Marcus Thomas stopped him short of the line.
The Gamecocks got the ball three more times down the stretch and could not get into Florida territory. The Gators' Keiwan Ratliff got his ninth interception of the season on Pinkins' desperation heave.
It was far from Leak's best game _ the freshman was 12-of-20 for 121 yards _ but he made enough right decisions, such as handing the ball to Fason _ to beat the Gamecocks, who fell to 0-8 the past two seasons in games that would have made them bowl eligible.
With Florida down 9-0 early on, Fason had runs of 20 and 30 yards on a 90-yard scoring drive, which Leak ended himself with a 9-yard TD run. With the Gators again down by nine points starting the second half, Leak threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to Ben Troupe.
Troupe appeared the have a second touchdown catch two series later, but dropped a wide-open pass in the end zone. The Gators settled for Matt Leach's 20-yard field goal to go ahead for good 17-16.
A fumbled pitch by Chavez Donnings on South Carolina's next series gave Florida the ball at the Gamecocks 10. DeShawn Wynn needed one play for a touchdown run to put the Gators ahead 24-16.
The Gamecocks have never had much success slowing down Florida's attack. And with old defensive coordinator Charlie Strong returning in Florida blue and orange, they figured to have as tough a time as ever.
Leak was under pressure through much of the first half. Defensive end George Gause caught him in the back of the end zone for a safety, the Gamecocks first since 1996. Leak had only 48 yards passing in the first half.
And when Donnings had an electrifying 73-yard punt return to close the half, it looked as though the Gameocks might have a line on their first series win since 1939.
South Carolina played without leading rusher Demetris Summers, out with a concussion sustained in the last game at Arkansas. The running game bogged down, but the Gamecocks made their chances count.
After Gause's safety, South Carolina went 57 yards in 10 plays for its first touchdown. Cory Boyd, replacing Summers, had a 1-yard TD run through the middle.