7:45 PM ET, November 2, 2002
Everbank Field, JACKSONVILLE, FL
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) -- There was no party for Georgia on this night. That privilege belonged once again to Florida, the team that befuddles the Bulldogs like no other.
Florida's Ben Troupe wound up scoring the go-ahead touchdown Saturday.
On a night when the fifth-ranked Bulldogs could have clinched a title, Rex Grossman ruined those plans. The Florida quarterback threw for 339 yards Saturday to help the Gators breathe life back into their on-and-off season with a 20-13 victory.
"This was huge,'' Grossman said. "It couldn't have been any bigger for us.''
In a season on the verge of flaming out, the Gators (6-3, 4-2 SEC) proved they didn't need Steve Spurrier to beat Georgia. Florida won the game known as the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party for the 12th time in 13 years, this time with Ron Zook as coach.
The Bulldogs (8-1, 5-1) could have clinched the SEC East -- their first significant title since they won the conference in 1982 -- and made headway in the national-title race on a day in which three other undefeated teams lost.
Instead, they went home losers, and their fans -- cautiously optimistic in all the pregame revelry this week -- had to make the slow walk of shame out of Alltel Stadium.
"It's real unbearable,'' said senior tackle Jon Stinchcomb, tears streaming down his face. "For the rest of our lives, all the seniors will know they never beat Florida. It's one of our biggest rivalries, and we're all 0-4. That's a pretty tough pill to swallow.''
It's made worse by the fact that Florida didn't play its best. Nor did the Gators need all of their best players to win this game against the rival Spurrier hated the most.
Leading receiver Taylor Jacobs left during the first series with an injured right knee that could keep him out four weeks. That simply opened the door for Kelvin Kight and Carlos Perez, who broke career receiving records on Grossman's 36-of-46 night.
"They were coming into the office and complaining that they didn't get opportunities,'' Zook said. "I'm so happy they got their opportunity and made plays they had to make.''
Trailing 13-12 early in the fourth quarter, Grossman led Florida on an 89-yard touchdown drive he called the best Florida has produced this year. He capped it with a perfect 10-yard touchdown lob to Ben Troupe -- a massive junior tight end from -- where else? -- Georgia.
"This feels good,'' Troupe said. "I can go home for Thanksgiving and Christmas now.''
Troupe's pretty touchdown catch was a welcome reprieve from a night filled with mistakes and missed opportunities for the Gators. They missed a 27-yard field goal, an extra point, turned the ball over four times and came up empty on three first-half trips inside Georgia's 20.
But Georgia matched them error for error. The Bulldogs committed three turnovers. They netted nothing on two trips inside Florida's 20 in the second half. They went 0-for-13 on third-down conversions. D.J. Shockley threw an interception that Guss Scott returned 47 yards for a touchdown.
The capper came with 2:23 left, when receiver Terrence Edwards was wide open at the Florida 30 but dropped a long pass from David Greene that landed right in his hands.
"Terrence catches that ball 10 times out of 10 in practice,'' cornerback Bruce Thornton said. "I know it's a disappointment to him, and it's a disappointment to all of us.''
Three plays after the drop, on fourth-and-1 from the Florida 42 with 1:50 left, Greene threw high to Tony Milton, who couldn't hang on. Florida regained possession, ran about a minute off the clock, and Georgia's last possession was a desperate scramble that came up well short.
With the loss, the Bulldogs need to win their remaining SEC games -- against Ole Miss and Auburn -- to ensure the SEC East title.
"We're still trying to do things one at a time,'' linebacker Tony Gilbert said, "and we can still accomplish that.''
But after a loss like that, they might be forced to at least confront the possibility that Gators offensive lineman Shannon Snell was right when he predicted Georgia would lose to Florida, and again somewhere down the road.
It was great bulletin-board material, and the Gators took care of the part they could control.
"Like I said earlier, and I'm not lying, they're going to lose another one, and I hope they do,'' Snell reiterated after the game.
Indeed, the Gators are thinking about a title, just like Georgia. If Georgia loses once more and the Gators beat Vanderbilt and South Carolina in the next two weeks, they would win the SEC East -- a notion that seemed laughable just a few weeks ago.
"It's fun, to be underdogs in a rivalry game, to come out with a victory and spoil their season and keep yourself alive,'' Grossman said.
Grossman surpassed the 300-yard mark for the 15th time as a Gator, tying Shane Matthews for the school record.
Kight, who entered only when Jacobs and his backup, Matt Jackson, got injured, finished with nine catches for 115 yards. Perez caught 12 passes for 76 yards.
Greene, meanwhile, didn't play well, going 11-for-29 for 141 yards, hardly the numbers of a championship quarterback. Shockley was no factor, except for the wrong-way touchdown he threw. Musa Smith ran for 100 yards, but overall the Gators dominated the line on both sides, outgaining Georgia 381-294.