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Gators hound Dawgs

Years and years from now, the questions will be asked among Florida fans with starry-eyed wonder.

Where were you the night Georgia came to Gainesville and the Gators scored that first defensive touchdown?

And the second?

And the third?

They said it would be history. You know, Georgia and Florida playing in Gainesville for the first time in 63 years and all. Well, folks, it was a night for memories.

No. 5 Florida beat Georgia 52-14 Saturday night before a national television audience and a crowd of 85,604, the largest in Florida Field history. And the attendance was just the start of the night's historical precedents.

It was Florida's fifth straight victory against the Bulldogs, the longest UF winning streak since the series began in 1915.

Florida scored three defensive touchdowns in a game for the first time, the feat coming in UF's 88th season and 878th game.

The 52 points is the most Florida has ever scored against Georgia.

All of this coming one game after the Gators were beaten by Auburn and knocked out of the top spot in the polls.

"This was ESPN. This was big for us," UF cornerback Larry Kennedy said.. "There were a lot of people across the country who were remembering Florida for losing to Auburn. They lost confidence in us. We wanted to show them we still have the power. We should still be nationally ranked and have national recognition."

With the victory, Florida (6-1 overall, 5-1 in the Southeastern Conference) has all but clinched the SEC Eastern Division title and a spot in the league championship game Dec. 3 in Atlanta.

Florida need only beat South Carolina (Nov. 12) or Vanderbilt (Nov. 19), and UF is 5-0 against those teams since 1989.

And for a change, the Gators have the defense to thank for it all.

In the midst of a three-year battle to improve their pass defense, the Gators not only shut down Georgia's acclaimed air attack but outscored it as well. Michael Gilmore returned a fumble for a score and Darren Hambrick and James Bates each returned interceptions for touchdowns.

"We were talking about it on the sideline that the defense was going to outscore the offense. It was close there for a while," said UF fullback Chris Bilkie. "But it was really good to see those guys have a big game like that. They deserved it."

As for the offense, maybe UF officials should wait a bit before trashing all of their ideas for Terry Dean's Heisman campaign. They might come in handy for Danny Wuerffel in 1995.

The sophomore quarterback was nearly perfect through the game's first 15 minutes, which is just about all that was necessary. Making his first start of the season, Wuerffel completed 14 of his first 20 passes for 173 yards, staking the Gators to a 17-0 lead.

"I thought Danny Wuerffel played extremely sharp early in the game," said UF coach Steve Spurrier. "Even though we did slow down a little bit, it was still a pretty good performance for us."

Speaking of Heisman Trophy campaigns, don't count on Eric Zeier getting much higher in the straw polls. The SEC's all-time leading passer threw a career-high four interceptions and was on the bench by the fourth quarter. Zeier finished 28-of-45 for 261 yards.

"Everyone came in talking about Eric Zeier. They forgot about the Florida defense," said Kennedy. "We thought he would come in here and give us more competition."

Georgia's inability to run the ball allowed the Gators to keep five and six defensive backs in the game at all times.

"It seemed like everybody was conceding that the guy was going to throw for 400 yards against us," said UF defensive coordinator Bobby Pruett. "I told the guys we needed to step up and accept his challenge."

The 63-year wait between Florida-Georgia games in Gainesville was delayed just a smidgen longer Saturday night. The referee postponed the opening kickoff 15 minutes because of severe rain storms.

Turns out it was simply a delay of the inevitable.

The Gators went 60 yards on their first drive _ 7-0.

The Gators went 69 yards on their second drive _ 14-0.

They added a short field goal _ 17-0.

And just when it seemed like Florida's offense was getting tired, the defense took over.

Georgia had scored on an 83-yard touchdown drive and was seemingly headed for more when the defense began its highlights portion of the game.

Ben Hanks separated Larry Bowie from the ball; Gilmore scooped up the fumble and raced 59 yards for a touchdown with 1:35 remaining in the half.

The play of the game? Hardly.

Georgia came right back with another scoring attempt. And the Gators came back with another scoring play.

Zeier threw into a cluster of Florida defenders and when the ball bounced up, Hambrick grabbed it and started running. The sophomore from Pasco High shook off one tackler and outran another before turning for the sideline.

With four Georgia players in front of him, Hambrick did a stutter-step that faked out three and then stiff-armed and leaped over the fourth, 270-pound guard Steve Roberts.

"I just knew they had him," UF defensive tackle Ellis Johnson said of Hambrick's run. "They had him squared off to the sideline. I don't know what happened. It was like he just appeared on the other side of them and ran into the end zone."

It was the final play of the half and it might as well have been the final play of the game. A couple minutes earlier, Georgia was within 40 yards of making it a 17-14 game. Instead it was 31-7.

"It's a game at 17-7. We're hoping for a field goal or a touchdown, we dropped a football, they scooped it up and all of a sudden it's 24-7," said Georgia coach Ray Goff. "Turnovers killed us today. On that one interception, I still don't know how he got through all of our players."

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