By Chris Macaluso
Special to LSUsports.net
BATON ROUGE — LSU and Florida combined for 139 plays Saturday night, but ultimately the game boiled down to just one. Tigers tailback Jacob Hester rushed for 106 yards against the Gators, but perhaps his last two will seal his fate as a hero in the annals of LSU football.
In arguably the most exciting game ever played in LSU’s storied Tiger Stadium in front of the largest crowd in its history, the No. 1-ranked LSU Tigers overcame a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat ninth-ranked Florida, 28-24, in front of record 92,910 emotionally spent fans.
Hester crossed the south endzone goal line with 1:09 remaining in the contest to give LSU its first lead of the game. LSU placekicker Colt David added the extra point after Hester was helped off the field by the Tiger medical staff after he laid exhausted on the turf and while the hometown crowd chanted his name following the touchdown.
The win improved LSU’s record to 6-0 overall, 3-0 in the Southeastern Conference, and sealed a No.1 ranking in both the Associated Press and Coaches polls. USC, which entered Saturday ranked No.1 by the coaches, lost to one-win Stanford 24-23 at home.
Florida, the defending National Champions fell to 4-2 overall, and an improbable 2-2 in the knock-down, drag out SEC.
LSU moves on to face another SEC Eastern Division foe when it travels next weekend to Kentucky (5-1) — which also suffered its first loss of the season on Thursday to No. 11 South Carolina.
Florida takes a week off before traveling to Lexington in two weeks.
The Tigers trailed 24-14 at the beginning of the fourth quarter but found the guts to muster a 4-yard touchdown pass from Matt Flynn to Demetrius Byrd with 10:15 left in the game on an improbable fourth-down play. The touchdown capped a 5-play, 27-yard drive that was started thanks to an interception of a tipped Tim Tebow pass by defensive end Kirtson Pittman at the Florida 27.
Hester’s score was the last play in a stomach-wrenching, nerve-racking drive that featured two fourht-and-1 running plays to extend the Tigers advance. Hester carried the ball on both plays, picking up a first down with a 2-yard run from the LSU 49 and then two more yards eight plays later at the Florida 7-yard line.
LSU trailed by 10 points at the end of the second and third quarters and managed the come-from-behind win despite missing two field goals.
The Tigers amassed 247 yards on the ground thanks to Hester’s career-high performance, 46 yards from Keiland Williams, 33 yards from Trindon Holiday, 30 yards from Flynn and 23 yards from back-up quarterback Ryan Perrilloux.
Flynn led the LSU passing attack, completing 14-of-27 passes for 144 yards, the touchdown to Byrd and an early interception. But, perhaps Flynn’s biggest play of the game was a 15-yard scramble on third-and-16 in LSU’s winning scoring drive that gave Hester the chance to pick up the first down near midfield on fourth-and-1.
Florida’s unquestionable leader was Tebow, who lived up to his billing as one of college football’s best players by rushing for 67 yards on 16 carries and a touchdown. He also threw for 158 yards on 12-of-26 passing and two touchdowns, but one very costly interception that careened off tight end Cornelius Ingram.
Florida’s rushing leader was Kestahn Moore who gained 79 yards on 12 carries but also cost his team by fumbling at midfield late in the third quarter when the Gators led by 10.
LSU trailed 17-7 at halftime but embarked on a lengthy drive after taking the opening kick of the second half to score its second touchdown of the game. Williams penetrated the Gators defense from four yards out with 7:49 to play in the third quarter to cap the 16-play, 70-yard drive that was extended by another Tigers trick-bag play on a field goal.
Flynn knelt to hold the possible field goal at the Florida 36 on the 11th play of the drive. But, instead of placing the ball, he bounced it off the turf and took off running through the right side of the Gators field-goal defense for eight yards to give LSU a first down at the Florida 17. The touchdown cut the Florida lead to 17-14 as the crowd erupted.
The Gators capped the eruption five plays later though, as Tebow found a wide open Ingram behind the defense for a 37-yard touchdown pass with 5:14 remaining in the third quarter. The quick strike came at the end of the game’s second-shortest scoring drive time-wise, a 75-yard dash that lasted just 2:27 and extended the Gator lead back to 10 at 24-14.
LSU’s offense failed to respond with a score after moving into Florida territory on the ensuing possession and the Tigers punted back to Florida, giving the Gator offense a chance to start at its 20-yard line.
Florida steadily moved to near midfield in six plays, but turned the ball over at the 50-yard line when Moore fumbled on a first-down run. LSU’s Ali Highsmith jumped on the bounding football, giving LSU’s offense a chance to cut the lead back to a one-score advantage.
The Tigers had their chance after advancing to the Florida 19-yard line in five plays. But, David missed a field goal try from 36 yards with 12:52 remaining in the game and the Gators lead remained intact.
Two plays later, Tebow was intercepted at his own 27 leading to the LSU score.
Florida appeared to start its next drive at its 25-yard line after returner Brandon James danced up the east sideline after catching the kick at the 10-yard line. But, LSU coach Les Miles challenged the play, questioning if James actually stepped out inside the 15-yard line. Replay showed he did and the ball was moved back to the Gator 14. Florida managed just six yards in the next three plays and punted back to LSU at the Tiger 40-yard line setting up the winning score.
Florida claimed the opening kick and spread the Tiger defense out with five-receiver sets throughout the first drive and most of the game. The Gators started at their 39 and drove to the Tiger 15-yard line in nine plays before Highsmith stepped in front of a third-down Tebow pass and limited the Gators to a field goal attempt. Joey Ijjas kicked the 31-yard attempt through the uprights in the south endzone to give the Gators a 3-0 advantage with 11:19 remaining in the quarter.
The Gators got another chance just three plays later when Flynn threw behind a wide open Brandon LaFell near midfield. LaFell tipped the ball in the air, giving Gator cornerback Joe Haden the chance to haul in the tipped pass at his 45 and advance it to the LSU 45. But, the Tiger defense responded to the offensive gaff and limited the Gators to just one yard on the ensuing drive, forcing a punt.
LSU’s offense was hindered by another dropped pass its next drive, forcing LSU to punt as it neared its own 40. Florida took over at its 23 and advanced steadily down the field in 12 plays for its second score of the game, this one of the seven-point variety. Tebow scrambled left from the LSU 2-yard line and lobbed a left-handed pass to Moore who was standing just across the goal line. The touchdown ran the score to 10-0 Florida with 13:45 left in the first half after the 67-yard, 7:03 drive.
The Tiger offense responded on the ensuing drive and instead of dropping passes, LSU’s receivers reeled in four passes while the Tiger rushing attack carried the rest of the load including the last yard of an 80-yard drive that lasted 16 plays. Perrilloux was responsible for that 80th yard, taking a quarterback keeper across the goal line on 4th-and-goal at the Gator 1-yard line. David’s point after cut the Florida lead to 10-7 with 6:08 remaining in the half after the clock-decimating 7:37 drive.
But Florida punched right back, taking the next drive straight at the Tiger defense over the next 10 plays led by the tough running of Tebow. The Gator signal caller carried the ball on six plays of the drive, including its last, a 9-yard scamper through a spread out LSU defense. The point after ran the score to 17-7 Gators with 2:23 remaining in the half.
LSU drove the ball to the Florida 26 in response with 28 seconds remaining in the half, but the Gator defense stiffened, holding LSU to a 43-yard field goal attempt by David that he missed wide left.
The Gators capped the eruption five plays later though, as Tebow found a wide open Ingram behind the defense for a 37-yard touchdown pass with 5:14 remaining in the third quarter. The quick strike came at the end of the game’s shortest scoring drive, 75-yard scamper that lasted just 2:27 and extended the Gator lead back to 10 at 24-14.
LSU’s offense failed to respond with a score after moving into Florida territory on the ensuing possession and the Tigers punted back to Florida, giving the Gator offense a chance to start at its 20 yard line.
The Tigers had their chance after advancing to the Florida 19-yard line in five plays. But, David missed another field goal try, this time from 36 yards out with 12:52 remaining in the game and the Gator lead remained intact.
Les Miles Quotes
“I thought that Florida was as talented of a team as we have played in my time here. Their receiving corps was big, strong and fast. Their running backs and Tebow played well. I give great credit to my opponents. We enjoyed that victory. Our football team is coming together. It happens at times when you say ?our defense just didn’t stuff them. Well you know what? We are playing a great football team. Our defense played extremely well. Our offense was not in rhythm in the first half. I enjoy the character of this football team. Down the road, that is what will sustain this team ? character.”
“Our team played well from behind. The missed field goals gave us opportunities to not come back, but they kept finding a way. I am proud of this team. I am proud of this staff and our players. Some guys took some heavy hits out there and still played well. In the face of adversity and playing from behind they played very well. I am proud of this team, very proud.”
On the number of converted fourth downs…
“You have to understand this, we knew that it was a possession game. The opportunity to keep the ball was something you had to do. Their offense would give every defense in the country a difficult time. They have a quarterback that can run and make you miss and good running backs. We knew that the opportunity to go on fourth down would be there for us. We kind of loaded the play so we could do that. We were ready.”
On if he thought about kicking a field goal on the fourth and one…
“No. We needed seven (points) right there. It had the feel and Matt Flynn, who started a little rocky again with some dropped balls and things not going his way, when he internalized those things we knew that he was back. We had a nice call that we liked versus what they were showing. He made a nice little run and made a play.”
LSU OFFENSIVE PLAYER QUOTES
QB Matt Flynn
On the win against Florida …
“All I can say is that I’m so proud of this team. There was never any doubt in any player’s head that we were going to lose that game. We just kept playing. We kept playing hard. We did all the little things. The coaches had a lot of confidence in us.”
On halftime adjustments …
“There weren’t any halftime adjustments. We were sticking with our game plan. We moved the ball well, but we kind of shot ourselves in the foot a bit early. But we put it on ourselves to come out and play hard.”
On the crowd …
“We were talking about them in the locker room. The fans were unbelievable tonight. The atmosphere was so electric. I can’t really explain how it felt out on the field. My hat goes out to them tonight.”
On this being the biggest win in LSU history …
“I guess I haven’t really been around that long. I know that it has been the biggest win in my collegiate experience. We knew it was going to be a struggle. We knew what kind of team it was and what kind of attitude they had, so we had to play hard.”
On 4th down conversions …
“All of the guys were hoping Coach Miles would go for them. Even the defensive coaches were trying to get him to go for it. We knew we were going to have to come up with some big plays to win this game tonight.”
On the most satisfactory aspect of the game …
“The experiences of being with these guys are great. We know what we are going through and preparing for the games. To come down and play a game to the wire and get the win is just a great feeling.”
On this season overall …
“We’ve gotten some big wins. But we are still making some minor mistakes that we can improve on. Those could have cost us the game tonight, especially some dropped passes.”
On the USC-Stanford score announcement …
“When they announced it, we were down by ten. So our coaches told us not to listen to it. If they lose and we lose it doesn’t really matter.”
LSU RB JACOB HESTER QUOTES
On the comeback victory…
“We knew the whole time that we could win the game if we just stepped up. Things weren’t going our way until the fourth quarter. We said that if we keep moving the ball and playing our game, then everything will work out for us.
On the go-ahead touchdown…
“It was just a regular power play. We had been running it all night to the left side. We started from the left to the right, and it opened up. (Center) Brett Helms did a heck of a job, and we made the score.
On the effect the USC loss had on LSU in the second half…
“I don’t know. We were already number one!”
LSU DEFENSIVE PLAYER QUOTES
On if it registered with him that USC lost when the crowd cheered…
“I didn’t find out that USC lost until I got into the locker room. USC losing means we are in a better position.”
On what the difference was between the first and second half…
“I think some of the things we prepared for at practice, were opposite of what Florida was doing. We had to make some adjustments at halftime and we were able to improve.”
On how he feels about the game…
“That was a game for the ages. Those are the types of games that you come to LSU to play. At one point, it wasn’t even about football anymore. The game was about if we could prove that we had a heart the size of our bodies.”
On watching the LSU offense…
“We have faith in the offense. If the offense wants to go for it on a fourth down, we are behind them.”
On Jacob Hester…
“Hester brings so much to the table, both emotionally and physically. He is just a dominant player and goes out there and makes plays when you need him.”
On if there was time that he thought Florida would win the game…
“No because I believed in us. We knew if we just went out there and played we could win the game. We just had to maintain focus.”
FLORIDA HEAD COACH URBAN MEYER QUOTES
On the turnovers in the second half …
“I thought our defense was hanging in there pretty good, but those two turnovers and the field position issues in the second half were not like the first half.”
On RB Kestahn Moore’s performance …
“I thought he ran extremely hard.”
On how the week was for the team …
“Probably about what you could imagine. It was a very, very hard week, very difficult week.”
On how the team prepared …
“I think we prepared very well. I think we played a hell of a football game. We had a couple distractions, but so does everybody else in America. I’m not disappointed with our preparation at all. I’m disappointed in a couple turnovers in the second half.”
On if the team played as well as it could in the first half …
“No, I actually thought we could have played a little better. We had a couple opportunities to knock it in, in certain situations, but I thought the energy level of our football team coming in to this environment to play shows you a little bit about the Florida Gators.
“I don’t make guarantees. I don’t know if I’ve ever done this, but I guarantee we’ll be back. The Florida Gators will be back smokin’. I don’t know when. I can’t make that one yet. I’ve got to see how everybody responds, but we’ll come back.”
FLORIDA QB TIM TEBOW
On Florida RB Kestahn Moore’s performance…
“He played really well and really hard all game. You know, he just fought and did everything he could.”
On if he was surprised that LSU Head Coach Les Miles went for it on fourth down numerous times…
“No. Coach Miles is a good coach and he believes in his players, just like coach [Urban] Meyer believes in his, and he was going for the win. I think any good coach is going to do that.”
On what he thought when Florida was up 24-14 in the third quarter…
“Just got to hold on to the ball. You’ve just got to hold on to the ball. We were moving the ball fine and we’ve got to keep going with that.”
On if he thinks LSU will meet Florida in Atlanta for the SEC Championship…
“They’re going to be there and that’s our goal ? to get there. You know you work hard. We still control our destiny. You’ve just got to go out there and win.”
On Coach Urban Meyer’s comments to the team after the game on the future of Florida football…
“For certain, the team’s future is still bright. We can still make it to Atlanta and win the SEC Championship. We have to still believe in each other and the coaches and fight the rest of the season.”
On what LSU’s players said to him following the game…
“They said ?Great game,’ and ?Great effort.’ They’re good players and we hope to see them again.”
On how tough the week has been for the Florida football team…
“It’s been a tough week. Coming off the loss to Auburn ? a game we felt we should have won. Then fighting back and getting ready for this game with a great game plan and playing well. We should have won. There’s no doubt about it ? we should have won. We’ve just got to finish the game. Play all four quarters.”
On if having a consistent running game helped open up the pass…
“The more you can run, the more effective passing is, and the easier it becomes. Yea it did.”
On how frustrating it was not to be able to answer the final touchdown…
“We just wanted thirty more seconds. We’ve just got to bounce back from it and get ready to play Kentucky.”
On if using five wide receivers and isolating LSU LBs Darry Beckwith and Ali Highsmith was a part of the game plan…
“They’re great players, so it’s not like you’re isolating some guy with a neck roll. Those guys are great athletes ? like secondary players. Going one-on-one with Ali Highsmith isn’t that much different than going against Steltz or any of those other guys.”
On how getting off to a fast start helped…
“It was great getting off to a fast start. We just wish we could have kept it going.”
FLORIDA DEFENSIVE PLAYER QUOTES
CB Joe Haden
On the outcome of the game…
“Everyone played their hearts out it just didn’t fall correctly. No one could have played any harder than we did. We played the No.1 team in the Nation. If we had beaten them it would have boosted our morale and put us right back on top.”
On the advantage early on…
“We had a really good advantage early on in the night. It turned out we lost, everyone played their hearts out. It hurts when we came out hard and end in a lost.”
On defense being on the field so much…
“We were tying to get them on third down conversation and going for it on fourth down. They had one drive that was eight minutes long and just kept the ball on the field. We could have needed a breather to get our heads back in to the game.”
On two loss thus far in the season…
“We are frustrated, but this happens. We have a bye week coming up, we will work to improve ourselves and come back ready.”
LSU vs. Florida
Oct. 6, 2007 ? Tiger Stadium (Baton Rouge, La.)
Post game Notes
1. LSU’s game captains were 6 Colt David, 15 Matt Flynn, 36 Patrick Fisher, 72 Glenn Dorsey.
2. Florida won the toss and elected to receive the opening kickoff. LSU received the ball to open the in the second half.
3. Tigers extending their consecutive starts streak today were: CB Chevis Jackson (32), LB Ali Highsmith (20), LT Ciron Black (19), CB Jonathan Zenon (19), LG Herman Johnson (16) and DT Glenn Dorsey (14).
4. LSU has recorded at least one sack in 25 straight games after a first quarter sack by Glenn Dorsey and Kirston Pittman in tonight’s game. The last time LSU’s defense did not record a sack was against North Texas in 2005.
5. LSU has outscored its opponents 233-56 over the last 23 quarters, including the 24-14 score today.
6. LSU has outscored it opponents 174-17 in the first quarter in the 18 home games under head coach Les Miles. Florida joined South Carolina and Alabama as the only teams to score on the Tigers in the first quarter during that stretch.
7. Tonight’s attendance of 92,910 is the largest crowd in Tiger Stadium history.
8. With the win, LSU begins a season 6-0 for the first time since 1973.
9. LSU extended its winning streak to 13 games, which is now the longest current streak in the nation by a FBS team as a result of Wisconsin’s loss to Illinois. The school record for consecutive wins is 19.
10. The Tigers tied a school record for consecutive home wins with 17, matching the streak set between 1935-37. LSU has not lost a home game since losing to Tennessee on Oct. 11, 2003.
11. LSU also extended these streaks tonight … The Tigers won their ninth consecutive SEC home game and eighth straight SEC game overall … LSU recorded its sixth straight win over a Top 25 team.
12. LSU is bowl eligible for the eighth straight season with the six wins.
13. The Tigers won a game ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press poll for the first time since Oct. 31, 1959 when LSU defeated No. 3 Ole Miss, 7-3, in Tiger Stadium.
14. QB Ryan Perrilloux scored his second rushing touchdown of his career and the season on a one-yard run with 6:08 left in the second quarter.
15. PK Colt David‘s three extra points tonight were the junior’s 121st , 122nd and 123rd of his career. He now trails LSU career PAT leader John Corbello (129 PATs) by six PATs.
16. RB Keiland Williams scored his fifth rushing touchdown of the season and the 10th of his career on a four-yard run with 7:49 left in the third quarter.
17. LB Darry Beckwith recovered a fumble late in the third quarter on a fumble caused by LB Ali Highsmith. The recovery by Beckwith was the first of his career.
18. DE Kirston Pittman intercepted a pass early in the fourth quarter, the first of pick of his career.
19. QB Matt Flynn tossed his fourth touchdown of the season and the 14th of his career on a four-yard pass to WR Demetrius Byrd with 10:15 left in the fourth quarter.
20. WR Demetrius Byrd pulled down his second touchdown pass of the season and his career on a four-yard pass from Flynn with 10:15 left in the fourth quarter.
21. SS Craig Steltz‘ 16 total tackles tonight is a career-high and is the most by an LSU player since Bradie James had 18 versus Arkansas on November 29, 2002.
22. RB Jacob Hester recorded his fifth rushing touchdown of the season and the 13th of his career on a 2-yard run with 1:09 left in the fourth quarter.
a. Hester set career highs in both carries (23) and rushing yards (106). It marked the first 100-yard rushing game of his career.