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Gator fans almost taste title

The Citrus County branch of the Gator Nation was still celebrating Monday, one day after learning that the University of Florida football team will play Ohio State in the national championship game.

"They deserve it," said Solon Brown of Inverness, who attended the SEC championship game Saturday in Atlanta.

The Gators beat Arkansas in that game. Earlier in the evening, USC lost to UCLA.

With those results, the situation was clear: Either the Gators or the Michigan Wolverines would meet Ohio State on Jan. 8 in Glendale, Ariz.

Just after 8 p.m. Sunday, the announcement was made: The Gators would play for it all.

"I felt that it should go that way, but you never know" how the Bowl Championship Series system will work out, Brown said. "The Gators earned a shot."

Brown said he will try to attend the game. He attended Florida's two other national championship games in the mid 1990s.

"I think it's great we get the chance to play for the championship," said another lifelong Gator fan, Charles "Gator" Bellamy of Inverness. "I think that's the way it should be. Michigan has a good football team, but they had their chance and they lost (to Ohio State during the regular season) so that seems to put the nail in the coffin, as they say."

"It was great news," said sheriff's Capt. Joe Eckstein, the county's emergency management director and a big Gator fan.

Unfortunately, Eckstein noted, the Gator basketball team couldn't catch the wave of positive emotion. It lost later Sunday night to the Florida State Seminoles in Tallahassee.

"My emotions were up and down," he said. But "I'm just glad that they (the football players) are getting a chance and that (Gator quarterback) Chris Leak has a chance to play in a national title game."

Former County Commissioner Josh Wooten always wears his Gator allegiance on his sleeve. On Monday, he also wore it around his neck: Wooten donned a Gator tie when taping an episode of We Have Issues, a talk show on WYKE-TV Ch. 47.