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Leak, Florida begin brutal stretch with win over Alabama

Sep 30, 2006 - 11:38 PM GAINESVILLE, Florida (Ticker) -- Chris Leak and defense led Florida to its first win over Alabama in eight years. Not that they will have any time to enjoy it.

Leak threw a pair of touchdown passes and the fifth-ranked Gators came up with a pair of late turnovers in a 28-13 Southeastern Conference victory over Alabama in "The Swamp."

The Gators lost to the Crimson Tide twice in 1999, including in the SEC championship game, and were crushed last season in Tuscaloosa, 31-3. Florida had not beaten Alabama since a 16-10 road triumph in 1998 until Saturday.

Florida took out its frustrations against Alabama, posting its 12th straight home victory, but the win is only the beginning of a brutal four-game stretch for the Gators, who host No. 9 Louisiana State next week, then visit second-ranked Auburn before taking on 10th-ranked Georgia in their annual matchup in Jacksonville.

"I'd like to thank our fans for tonight, that was big time," Florida coach Urban Meyer said. "I'd also like to thank our players. They toughed it out. They were challenged at the beginning of the season, and that's now two games they've come from behind to win."

The Gators (5-0, 3-0 SEC East) - who went unbeaten at home last year in their first season under Urban Meyer - trailed, 10-7, before Leak threw a 16-yard TD pass to Andre Caldwell with 2:54 left in the third quarter.

Alabama pulled within 14-13 on a 26-yard field goal by Jamie Christensen with 12:50 remaining but it was Florida that made all the big plays down the stretch.

Leak, who completed 14-of-20 passes for 174 yards, threw a 21-yard TD pass to Dallas Baker to give Florida a 21-13 lead with 6:53 to go.

Safety Reggie Nelson helped set up the drive, recovering a fumble after an interception by cornerback Ryan Smith. Nelson iced the game on the ensuing possession, returning an interception of a pass by John Parker Wilson 70 yards for a TD to cap the scoring.

The late defensive stand helped the Gators improve to 5-0 for the first time since 2001 and for the 12th time in school history.

Wilson completed 21-of-40 passes for 234 yards but was intercepted three times for Alabama (3-2, 1-2 West). He entered the game with one interception in his previous 110 attempts.

"It was a tough loss and difficult to swallow," Alabama coach Mike Shula said. "Our guys played hard, we had a real good week of practice and preparation, but you hate to see that not pay off for your guys."

True freshman quarterback Tim Tebow scored on a two-yard run in the second quarter to cut Alabama's lead to 10-7.

The Crimson Tide jumped out to a 10-0 lead on a fumble return by Prince Hall in the first quarter and a 21-yard field goal by Jamie Christensen in the second quarter.

With Leak in the shotgun calling an audible, the ball was snapped before he was ready and Hall pounced on it and raced 50 yards to make it 7-0.

"The first quarter was awful," Meyer said. "We had the intent to run the ball against them, but we didn't have much success. Once we got things going, we did well."

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