24 - 28 Final
  for this game

Hester, LSU rally for thrilling win over Florida

Oct 7, 2007 - 5:24 AM BATON ROUGE, Louisiana (Ticker) -- Jacob Hester made Les Miles look like a genius while keeping Louisiana State atop the national rankings.

Hester rumbled for a go-ahead two-yard touchdown with just over a minute remaining, lifting the top-ranked Tigers to a hard-fought 28-24 triumph over No. 9 Florida in a Southeastern Conference showdown on Saturday.

It was the 13th consecutive victory for LSU (6-0, 3-0 SEC West), which owns the nation's longest winning streak thanks to Wisconsin's loss to Illinois. The fifth-ranked Badgers entered with a 14-game winning streak.

"I enjoy the character of this football team," LSU coach Les Miles said. "Down the road, that's what will carry this team - character. They kept finding a way. They faced adversity and played awfully well."

More importantly, the Tigers confirmed their status as the SEC's top team with their come-from-behind win over the defending national champion Gators (4-2, 2-2 East), who posted a 23-10 win over LSU last year in Gainesville.

"We knew the whole time that we could win the game if we just stepped up," Hester said. "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."

Less than two hours after second-ranked Southern California suffered a shocking 24-23 loss to Stanford, the Tigers appeared headed toward the same fate.

Trailing, 24-21, and facing a 4th-and-1 at the Gators' 7-yard line, Miles opted against settling for a chip-shot field goal which would have tied the score with just over a minute remaining.

"Never any question in my mind that we were going to get it," LSU quarterback Matt Flynn said. "We were in makeable situations."

The Tigers coach instead called a play for Hester, who willed his way for two yards to the Gators 5 with 1:50 remaining. Miles' gamble ultimately paid off three plays later when Hester plunged into the end zone from two yards out, giving LSU a 28-24 lead with 1:14 to play.

"It was just a regular power play," Hester said. "We had been running it all night to the left side. We started from the left to the right, and it opened up."

It was the first lead of the game for the Tigers, who entered the contest atop the rankings for the first time since November 7, 1959.

The 224-pound Hester finished with 106 yards on 23 carries while Matt Flynn completed 14-of-27 attempts for 144 yards for LSU, which improved to 23-28-3 all-time against Florida.

"Hester made some of the key runs for us," Miles said. "Some of length, some were short. We got some inspirational play from him."

Hester's gritty play overshadowed a strong performance by Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, who passed for two TDs and ran for another score. The sophomore finished 12-of-27 for 158 yards and also ran for 68 yards on 15 carries.

But Tebow struggled in the fourth quarter, completing just 2-of-8 passes while tossing an interception. The southpaw's last-second desperation heave from midfield was batted down as time expired, sparking a wild celebration in "Death Valley."

"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," Florida coach Urban Meyer said.

After Keiland Williams scored on a four-yard TD run to draw LSU within 17-14 midway through the third quarter, the raucous crowd at Tiger Stadium erupted upon the announcement of USC's loss to Stanford.

But Tebow quieted the crowd very quickly with his second TD pass of the game, a 37-yard strike to a wide-open Cornelius Ingram which pushed Florida's lead back to 24-14 with 5:16 left in the third.

The Tigers roared back in the fourth quarter, as Flynn hooked up with Demetrius Byrd for a four-yard score to slice LSU's deficit to 24-21.

The score was set up when defensive end Kirston Pittman intercepted Tebow off a deflection, giving the Tigers the ball at the Gators 27. Trindon Holliday raced for 16 yards on the following play, and Flynn found Byrd on a 4th-down play four plays later.

Tebow threw a pair of incompletions on the ensuing drive, forcing the Gators to punt with 9:29 remaining.

Following an offensive interference penalty, LSU found itself with a 3rd-and-16 from its own 34. But Flynn raced for 15 yards, and Hester grinded out two tough yards on 4th-and-1 to prolong the eventual go-ahead drive.

Hester rumbled for another 20 yards to move the ball to Florida's 15 with four minutes remaining, and LSU inched to the 7 thanks to a five-yard run by backup quarterback Ryan Perrilloux.

But after Hester was stopped for no gain on 3rd-and-1, Hester bruised for two yards to the Florida 5 - setting up his decisive score three plays later.

"I don't make guarantees," Meyer said. "I don't know if I've ever done this, but I guarantee we'll be back."