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Winning kick fulfills "dream" for Florida Gator kicker Caleb Sturgis

GAINESVILLE — Caleb Sturgis saw it coming.

The Florida sophomore watched Arkansas' Alex Tejada miss a 38-yard field goal with 3:08 remaining. He figured Florida's offense would take the ball from the Arkansas 21 and put the game in his hands.

With 13 seconds left, Sturgis walked onto Florida Field.

Four seconds later, Ben Hill Griffin Stadium erupted, and he became a hero.

Sturgis converted a 27-yard field goal to give coach Urban Meyer his first victory by a kick in the final seconds. The field goal also allowed the top-ranked and undefeated Gators to escape with their 16th consecutive victory, the nation's longest current streak.

It was Sturgis' first winning field goal at any level.

"That's always your dream. I grew up a Gator fan," he said. "It was a pretty awesome experience."

Pretty good for a 20-year-old from St. Augustine who didn't even start the season as Florida's kicker.

That was fifth-year senior Jonathan Phillips, who connected on 12 of 13 field goals and 78 of 79 extra points a year ago. But Phillips, now a first-year law student at Florida, missed his first field goal of the season — a 39-yarder against Troy — then was beat out in practice by Sturgis.

Now for the second straight week, Florida was depending on Sturgis. Last week at LSU, he made a 32-yard field goal with 7:27 left in the game to widen the Gators' lead to 10.

But Sturgis also dealt with adversity for the second straight week. In Baton Rouge, he missed a 20-yard field goal. Saturday against Arkansas, Sturgis missed a 37-yarder on UF's opening possession.

But he regained his composure to connect from 30 and 51 yards before the winner.

The 51-yarder with 4:07 into the third was the longest by a Gator since Matt Leach's 52-yarder against Georgia on Oct. 30, 2004.

"He pounds the ball," Meyer said.

"Sturgis has been hitting the ball good. I have a lot of confidence, obviously, to have Sturgis go win the game for us."

Sturgis' teammates shared the sentiment, even if they themselves couldn't watch the kick.

"I didn't watch. I didn't listen. I took my helmet off and covered my ears. I didn't want to know what was going on," cornerback Joe Haden said. "I had confidence in him … but then I was thinking, 'Nine seconds left — it's not practice. If you miss, you don't do it again.' "

Sturgis said as soon as he kicked it, he knew it was good.

After all, he had seen it coming.

Winning kick fulfills "dream" for Florida Gator kicker Caleb Sturgis 10/17/09 [Last modified: Saturday, October 17, 2009 10:50pm]
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