For once, it's Georgia's party
Dawgs end Jacksonville skid, down Gators in first game after Zook firing
Posted: Saturday October 30, 2004 7:51PM; Updated: Saturday October 30, 2004 11:30PM
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) -- David Greene begged for the football as time expired.
After much pleading with a referee, he got it. And even after hugging teammates and doling out high-fives with fans, he was clutching it as he left Alltel Stadium on Saturday.
He really wanted a souvenir from this one.
Who could blame him? This was his last game against Florida -- and his first victory.
Greene threw three touchdown passes, including a big one in the fourth quarter, and No. 10 Georgia snapped a six-game losing streak against the Gators, 31-24.
"We wanted this game so bad," Greene said. "It's my senior year, and I knew this was the last time I was ever going to play a game on this stage."
Greene tied Eric Zeier's school record with 67 touchdown passes and matched Peyton Manning for the most victories (39) by a starting quarterback in NCAA Division I-A.
More importantly, Greene helped Georgia end years of frustration at the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. Florida had won 13 of the last 14 in the series.
"I'm glad our fans can come back here and not have to listen to Florida fans running their mouths anymore," defensive end David Pollack said.
The Bulldogs (7-1, 5-1 Southeastern Conference) scored touchdowns on their first three possessions -- eliminating whatever emotional edge the Gators may have had from the firing of coach Ron Zook this week.
"It was very unsettling. I didn't know how the team would take it," Zook said. "It was an emotional week. But I am proud of them for hanging in there. We just did too little, too late."
Georgia controlled the first half and led 24-7 early in the third when Florida (4-4, 2-4) seized momentum with two huge plays.
Chris Leak hooked up with Andre Caldwell for a 57-yard score. Then Ciatrick Fason ran 38 yards to set up Billy Latsko's 3-yard touchdown reception, which cut the lead to 24-21 with about 12 minutes to play.
Greene then ended any chance of Florida finishing the comeback.
He scrambled around on the ensuing play and threw a perfect pass to Reggie Brown for a 51-yard gain. Five plays later, on third-and-9 from the 15, he found Fred Gibson for his record-tying touchdown.
Although Matt Leach kicked a 52-yard field goal to give the Gators another chance, Georgia running backs Danny Ware and Thomas Brown picked up enough yardage after a failed onside kick to seal the victory.
Then the celebration began -- starting with Greene pleading for the ball.
Players hugged and danced at midfield, then took the party to the sideline. Greene was one of the last ones to leave, spending extra time frolicking with fans while gripping the game ball.
"I'm hanging onto that ball," he said. "I'll put it in my room somewhere."
Maybe not. Coach Mark Richt said Greene might have to return it because of NCAA rules.
Still, the issue did little to spoil Georgia's mood.
"It's been a long time coming," Richt said. "A lot of people have been through a lot of pain and suffering, and they finally get to enjoy it."
The last time the Bulldogs beat Florida was in 1997 behind seniors Mike Bobo, Robert Edwards and Hines Ward.
Coincidentally, three seniors did much of the damage Saturday.
Greene finished 15-of-23 for 255 yards and no interceptions, Gibson caught five passes for 59 yards and Pollack had two sacks.
Underclassmen came up big, too. Ware and Brown combined for 162 yards on 31 carries, and tight end Leonard Pope caught two touchdown passes.
Pope scored twice in first quarter, staking the Bulldogs to a 14-7 lead. They made it 21-7 on Brown's 5-yard scoring run.
It was hardly the start Florida wanted or expected.
Zook was fired Monday, two days after a 38-31 loss at Mississippi State. The players ripped athletic director Jeremy Foley for the timing and rationale of the move. They also dedicated the rest of the season to their ousted coach, vowing to win for the Zooker.
They expected the emotional week to carry them early.
"It hurt not to get the victory for coach Zook," said Ciatrick Fason, who ran 17 times for 139 yards. "Coach wanted us to come out here and leave everything on the field. We did that. We put up a good fight. ... It was hard to focus on this game, but I think we did a good job with it."