6:00 PM ET, December 2, 2006
Georgia Dome, ATLANTA, GA
ATLANTA (ESPN.com news services) -- As silver confetti blew all around them, the Florida Gators celebrated their first Southeastern Conference since the "Fun 'n' Gun" days.
The party didn't last long, though.
It was time to start lobbying for a chance to play for the biggest title of all.
Making their pitch for a trip to the desert, the Gators got an unexpected assist from the West Coast, held on for a topsy-turvy win over Arkansas and quickly deemed themselves the most worthy opponent to face top-ranked Ohio State in the BCS championship game.
"We're going to tell a group of young men who just went 12-1 with the most difficult schedule against six ranked opponents that they don't have a chance to go play for a national championship?" Florida coach Urban Meyer asked incredulously. "I'm going to need help with that one."
His players agreed, of course, feeling the No. 4 Gators are more deserving of a shot at the Buckeyes than third-ranked Michigan, which lost to Ohio State two weeks ago in their regular-season finale.
"Michigan already had its chance," said freshman Percy Harvin, who was MVP of the Gators' 38-28 win over No. 8 Arkansas on Saturday night. "I think we deserve a chance."
"If they don't vote for us after tonight, we need a new system," Florida President Bernie Machen said after the game. "We should be packing our bags for Glendale."
One team Florida doesn't have to worry about: Southern California. The No. 2 Trojans were knocked out by a 13-9 loss to UCLA, which finished off its stunning upset while the Gators were in the locker room at halftime.
"It was definitely motivation," Harvin said. "We wanted to go out and finish off the game."
That they did. Harvin scored two touchdowns and Florida put up two more scores off a blocked punt and a botched return, winning its first SEC crown since 2000.
The Gators trailed Michigan in last week's BCS standings but hope they did enough to leapfrog the Wolverines in the one that really matters. The media, coaches and computers will answer that question Sunday night.
When everything is settled -- and no matter what happens, there will be plenty of griping -- Florida either heads to Arizona for the Jan. 8 BCS championship game or settles for a spot in the Sugar Bowl.
Arkansas coach Houston Nutt threw his support to the Gators.
"This is the toughest conference in America," Nutt said. "If I went sitting on that other sideline, I would be saying, 'Absolutely.' I wish them all the best and hope they have an opportunity to go."
For those who complained that Florida didn't play an exciting brand of football, relying a little too heavily on its defense, there was a little something for everyone in this one -- starting with big plays galore and plenty of razzle-dazzle.
"That has to be one of greatest football games ever as far as momentum shifts," said Meyer, who rebuilt a program that dominated the SEC when Steve Spurrier was coaching at The Swamp but fell on hard times after Ron Zook took over.
Harvin caught a 37-yard touchdown pass and broke off a 67-yard run to the end zone. Florida scored its first touchdown after Jarred Fayson broke up the middle to block a punt, then went ahead for good when Wondy Pierre-Louis fell on a fumbled punt in the end zone late in the third quarter.
Three touchdown passes were thrown by someone other than a quarterback.
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Arkansas (10-3) certainly didn't make it easy on the Gators, rallying from a 17-0 deficit after being held without a touchdown in their first two appearances in the SEC title game.
"The last two times we were here, it wasn't a real ballgame," Nutt said. "This was a real ballgame."
The Razorbacks got on the board just before halftime when Casey Dick threw a 48-yard TD pass to Marcus Monk. In the third period, they came up with two interceptions against Florida's senior quarterback, Chris Leak -- the first setting up a TD, the second returned 40 yards for a score by 255-pound defensive end Antwain Robinson.
But in the end, Florida made a few more plays than the Razorbacks, who will have to settle for a spot in either the Capital One, Outback or Cotton Bowl.
"BCS, give us a shot!" one Florida fan pleaded toward the press box, aware that some voters who will have a hand in that decision were covering the game.
Early in the second quarter, there was a smattering of applause among the Florida contingent when they got word that UCLA had gone ahead. At halftime, the Georgia Dome erupted -- at least the sections where fans were wearing blue and orange -- when the Bruins preserved their stunning upset with a late interception.
After Arkansas stormed ahead 21-17, Florida reclaimed the momentum when Reggie Fish made a ghastly error on a punt return.
Filling in for the Razorbacks' regular returner, who didn't make the trip because of an injury, Fish inexplicably tried to field a punt near his own goal line with an over-the-shoulder catch. He couldn't hang on, the ball squirted into the end zone and Pierre-Louis fell on it to put the Gators back ahead.
Harvin extended the lead with his second TD. The receiver took a handoff from Leak on what appeared to be an end around, only to stop suddenly and head back in the other direction. He found a huge hole and didn't stop running until 67 yards later.
Harvin finished with six carries for 105 yards and had five catches for another 62 yards.
Florida shut down Arkansas' powerful run game, limiting Heisman Trophy-contender McFadden to 73 yards on 21 carries -- 50 yards below his season average. He wasn't at full speed after hurting his ankle in the opening period.
The Gators, playing in their first SEC title game since they won the last of six conference titles under Spurrier in 2000, got off to a start that was reminiscent of the "Fun 'n' Gun" era.
Embattled kicker Chris Hetland punched through a 33-yard field goal -- his longest of the season -- and Leak scored on a 9-yard run after Fayson's block. The Gators were really cruising when Harvin scored off a throw from Leak, who went by 1996 Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel as the leading passer in Florida history with the 37-yard throw.
Instead of folding, Arkansas made a rousing comeback. The defense really stepped up, taking advantage of two big mistakes by Leak. He was picked off by middle linebacker Weston Dacus, leading to a quick TD for the Razorbacks. Robinson scored one himself, stepping in front of a lateral-type pass from Leak and taking it all the way to the end zone.
But the Gators weren't going to let this chance get away. When Ryan Smith made an interception in the end zone with about 3 minutes left, the celebration was on. Meyer was doused with Gatorade -- that's appropriate -- while the fans chanted "BCS! BCS! BCS!"
"We deserve a shot," Meyer said. "I have great confidence that the University of Florida will get that opportunity. I really do."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
Top 25 Overview
It was over when... Freshman sensation Percy Harvin rushed 67 yards for a touchdown in the first minute of the fourth quarter to put the Gators up by 10.
Gameball goes to... Harvin. The highly-touted wide receiver caught six passes for 105 yards and a touchdown, and rushed five times for 62 yards and another score.
Stat of the game... 4: Turnovers killed Arkansas' chances of pulling an upset and winning its first SEC title. The Hogs threw three interceptions and lost a fumble.
Team Stat Comparison
|3rd Down Conversions||4-12||2-11|
|4th Down Conversions||0-0||1-2|
|FG||6:10||CHRIS HETLAND 33 YD FG|
Drive info: 6 plays, 47 yards.
|TD||8:54||CHRIS LEAK 9 YD RUN (CHRIS HETLAND KICK)|
Drive info: 1 plays, 9 yards.
|TD||4:02||PERCY HARVIN 37 YD PASS FROM CHRIS LEAK (CHRIS HETLAND KICK)|
Drive info: 8 plays, 74 yards.
|TD||1:55||MARCUS MONK 48 YD PASS FROM CASEY DICK (JEREMY DAVIS KICK)|
Drive info: 3 plays, 66 yards.
|TD||12:06||FELIX JONES 2 YD PASS FROM DARREN MCFADDEN (JEREMY DAVIS KICK)|
Drive info: 7 plays, 32 yards.
|TD||8:33||ANTWAIN ROBINSON 40 YD INTERCEPTION RETURN (JEREMY DAVIS KICK)||21||17|
|TD||3:47||WONDY PIERRE-LOUIS 0 YD DEFENSIVE FUMBLE RETURN (CHRIS HETLAND KICK)||21||24|
|TD||14:22||PERCY HARVIN 67 YD RUN (CHRIS HETLAND KICK)|
Drive info: 1 plays, 67 yards.
|TD||12:29||FELIX JONES 29 YD PASS FROM CEDRIC WASHINGTON (JEREMY DAVIS KICK)|
Drive info: 4 plays, 63 yards.
|TD||9:04||TATE CASEY 5 YD PASS FROM ANDRE CALDWELL (CHRIS HETLAND KICK)|
Drive info: 8 plays, 80 yards.