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Tebow's breakout game had come against the Tigers a year ago: He accounted for all three of Florida's touchdowns in a 23--10 victory in the Swamp. The most memorable of those scores was a jump pass to tight end Tate Casey, a retro throw that was ungainly and beautiful all at once. Tebow's touchdown pass on Saturday was also most distinctive. Rolling left from the LSU two-yard line with linebacker Ali Highsmith bearing down on him, Tebow scanned the end zone before tucking the ball to run. At the last instant, when linebacker Darry Beckwith charged toward him, Tebow flicked the ball to tailback Kestahn Moore, who was standing in the area Beckwith had just occupied. So quick was Tebow's release that he looked like a man throwing a dart in a pub.
In the LSU locker room at halftime, with his team trailing 17--7, an angry Highsmith reminded his teammates that the Gators had gathered before the game and jumped up and down on LSU's logo. In Highsmith's version of events—embellished slightly to provoke maximum outrage—the Gators also spit on the Tigers' eye.
With Florida driving late in the third quarter, Highsmith tore the ball from Moore's grasp. But Colt David missed his second field goal of the game, a 37-yarder, preserving Florida's 24--14 lead, and explaining, in part, why Miles had so few qualms about going for it so often on fourth down.
The Tigers got the ball back on a freak interception: A Tebow bullet doinked off the helmet of tight end Cornelius Ingram, into the hands of defensive end Kirston Pittman. LSU's drive stalled at the Florida four-yard line. This was a no-brainer, right? LSU was down 10 points, and there were still 10-plus minutes left. You take the sure three, right?
Not Miles. Not on this night. Tigers quarterback Matt Flynn rolled right, looking for wideout Demetrius Byrd, who was covered. "I was ready to run it," said Flynn, who as the holder had already rushed for a first down on a fake field goal. When linebacker Brandon Spikes, who'd been covering Byrd, stepped up to play the run, Flynn flicked a scoring pass to Byrd. The Death Valley crowd was in full throat.
Its lead whittled to 24--21, Florida badly needed a long, clock-eating drive. Instead, the Tigers defense forced just its second three-and-out of the game. During the TV timeout before the offense took the field, Miles told the Tigers, "You're not going to see the kicker on this drive."
Four plays later LSU was facing a fourth-and-one at its 49-yard line with 7:07 left. "They knew where we were going to run, Hester said. "It was just mano a mano." Jolted behind the line of scrimmage, the 6-foot, 232-pound Hester moved the chains with a supreme second effort. Four snaps later he ran through the tackle of freshman safety Major Wright on a 19-yard run. As he was getting up, he says that a Florida player told him, "You still ain't nothin', Vanilla Ice."
Hester has a flair for the dramatic: He proposed to his wife, Katie, outside War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock last season. He plays a lot of tailback, some fullback and is on the kick-coverage teams. A fine blocker and a dangerous receiver, Hester also happens to be white, a subject that arises, every so often, on the field. Earlier in his career, Hester recalls, a Tennessee player asked him, "Shouldn't you be playing at Air Force?" Seven plays after being compared with the composer of Ice, Ice Baby, on third-and-goal from the three, Hester torpedoed under Spikes and got the nose of the ball over the goal line.
"I'm proud of him," said Flynn, who helped direct the 15-play drive. "I'm proud of all these guys. I feel blessed to be a part of this team."
It was, in the end, the kind of gut-check victory that championship squads like to reflect on, to say, That was the night we grew up. Hester, of course, was having none of it. "If it was Week 12, this would be the best feeling in the world," he said. "But it's Week 7."