Gators survive Vanderbilt rally, 25-19

NASHVILLE-- Vanderbilt rallied from a 19-point fourth quarter deficit but couldn't overcome earlier costly special teams blunders. Seventh ranked Florida held on to defeat Vanderbilt 25-19 before over 38,000 at Vanderbilt Stadium.

Florida jumped out to an early 8-0 lead and then built its lead to 25-6 by the start of the fourth quarter before the Commodores mounted a furious rally. Chris Nickson found George Smith for a 10-yard scoring pass with 11:33 remaining in the game. After a failed 2-point-conversion attempt the score stood at 25-12.

Chris Nickson connected with Earl Bennett for a 31-yard scoring pass to bring Vanderbilt to within 6 at 25-19 with 2:30 remaining. Bennett caught 13 passes for 157 yards on the day passing Martin Cox who played in the late 1970s to move into sixth place on the all-time Vanderbilt receptions list.

Florida recovered an on-sides kick attempt by Vanderbilt to remove any hope of a Commodore victory.

Earlier in the game, Florida used a blocked Brett Upson punt to get its initial possession on the Vanderbilt 5-yard-line. Chris Leak's 4-yard run to gave Florida am early 6-0 lead. On the ensuing extra point attempt the hold was botched. An alert Gator holder, A. J. Jones, completed a pass to tight end Casey Tate to give Florida 2-points for the conversion and an 8-0 lead.

Vanderbilt struck back later with a Cassen-Jackson Garrison 13-yard scoring run. The 2-point conversion attempt failed making the score 8-6 with 6:17 remaining in the first quarter.

Florida's Dallas Baker caught a 14-yard scoring reception from Chris Leak to make the halftime score Florida 15 Vanderbilt 6.

In the second half Leak scored his second rushing touchdown of the day, when he scrambled from 4-yards out to extend Florida's lead to 22-6 with 8:12 remaining in the third quarter. Leak finished the day with 18 completions on 25 attempts for 237 yards, 3 interceptions, a touchdown pass and the 2 rushing touchdowns.

The Gators added a 29-yard field goal with 16 seconds left in the third to make the score 25-6.

Vanderbilt's Nickson had another good day passing for Vanderbilt, completing 27 of 44 passes for 298 yards, 2 touchdowns and an interception.

Despite the loss, Vanderbilt out gained Florida 391-330 in total yards. The Vandy defense harassed Leak throughout the day, sacking him 4 times in addition to the interceptions. Vanderbilt's Jonathan Goff, Curtis Gatewood, Kevin Joyce and Marcus Buggs all registered sacks of Leaks. Florida registered 3 sacks of Nickson.

Vanderbilt's special teams struggled again on Saturday. The Gators blocked two Vanderbilt punts and Bryant Hahnfeldt missed a field goal. The Gators also had a 35-yard kickoff return that gave Florida excellent position deep in the Commodore's territory.

A somber Bobby Johnson reflected on the loss after the game, "I'm proud of our players for playing hard and not giving up. We just gave them too many opportunities early on and that cost us the game. At times we played well enough to win. Florida is a very fine team with outstanding athletes. They weren't going to give you any gifts," said the fifth year head coach.

Vanderbilt falls to 4-6 (1-5 SEC) with the loss. The Commodores next face Kentucky on Saturday in Lexington. Florida improves to 8-1 (6-1 SEC). The Gators host South Carolina on Saturday.


Vanderbilt wide receiver Marlon White (82) goes after the ball against Florida cornerback Ryan Smith (28) during the first quarter of their college football game in Nashville, Tenn., Saturday, Nov. 4, 2006. The pass from Vandy quarterback Chris Nickson (3) was incomplete. (AP Photo/Neil Brake)

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