Leak to Baker

Published: Saturday, January 6, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 5, 2007 at 10:45 a.m.

One could argue that, in the last five years to a decade, Tennessee has become Florida’s premiere rival.

Yeah, yeah, there’s Florida State. That one is fun, sure, but it doesn’t affect the Gators hopes of an SEC title, save of course 2003 - the oddball year. There’s no love lost, and every game is a hard-fought emotional game.

And then you might say Georgia, but let’s face the facts. It’s been what, fifteen of the last seventeen in Florida’s favor? It’s getting kind of old.

The game that most often affects the outcome of the SEC season is Florida-Tennessee. This year’s game, like last year’s, was a gritty, sweaty, bone-busting affair that ended in a close score.

Quarterback Chris Leak has had a pretty significant role in the recent rivalry. His brother, CJ, mostly rode the pine as a quarterback and safety under Phillip Fulmer, and that primarily led Chris (and eventually CJ) to the Gators.

In his three starts, he was 2-1, with the only loss coming in 2004 after a few questionable officiating moves gave Tennessee extra time to win the game with a field goal.

The 2006 matchup more closely mirrored that game in 2004 statistically for Leak, who threw three touchdowns in the game.

Leak had played a tough, gritty game, hitting Jemalle Cornelius with the game’s first score on a 21-yard pass where Cornelius nearly left the field of play before tumbling into the end zone.

After that score, however, Tennessee roared back on a quick field goal followed by a 48-yard touchdown on a trick play. While Tennessee would finish with -11 yards on the ground, a 1-yard rush put the Vols ahead 17-7 in the third quarter.

Just before the end of the third quarter, Leak hit Dallas Baker for a 4-yard bobbling touchdown grab to cut the deficit to 3.

The Vols quickly responded, however, with wunderkicker James Wilhoit’s 51-yard field goal, and it started to feel like the Ron Zook Gator game, where come-from-behind victories were rarely found.

In fact, Leak had resorted to old tendencies, sliding short of the first down marker on a third-and-medium play late in the fourth.

With the game on the line, Coach Urban Meyer sent Tim Tebow to the field to run one of his patented quarterback off-tackles. It worked, and the Gators breathed new life.

As would happen often when Tebow spelled Leak, the Gator offense was reinvigorated. Just a play later, Leak would hit a wide-open Dallas Baker for a 21-yard score that would be the difference-maker in this year’s matchup.

With that last play, Leak closed his career against Tennessee with a hard-fought and emotional win, and proved he could lead his team from the clutches of defeat.

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