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December 3, 2006

Game Notes: Florida freshmen make impact

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Florida states its case for a national title shot

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Box score | Florida 38, Arkansas 28

ATLANTA The most-decorated and least-decorated players in Florida's outstanding 2006 recruiting class carried the Gators to the Southeastern Conference championship.

Percy Harvin rated by Rivals.com as the No. 1 recruit in the nation a year ago gained 168 total yards and scored two touchdowns Saturday in Florida's 38-28 victory over Arkansas. Harvin rushed for 106 yards on just six carries and caught five passes for 62 yards.

The SEC championship game MVP scored on a 37-yard reception in the second quarter and ran for a 67-yard score in the fourth period.

"We've got a great recruiting class," Harvin said. "Coach always said we'd know how good our recruiting class is by how many championships we win."

But the biggest play of the night belonged to a much more obscure freshman.

When the Gators were searching for a spark after blowing a 17-point lead, Wondy Pierre-Louis provided it. The only two-star prospect in Florida's recruiting class recovered a fumbled punt return in the end zone to help the Gators regain the lead.

"It's a dream come true," Pierre-Louis said. "It feels good. I made the biggest play in the biggest game."

Florida faced fourth-and-1 from its 41-yard line when the Gators decided to punt after using a timeout to discuss their options. Arkansas punt returner Reggie Fish attempted to catch the punt inside his 5-yard line and muffed it instead.

Fish failed to secure possession even after attempting to dive on the ball in the Arkansas end zone. That's when Pierre-Louis recovered the fumble to give the Gators a 24-21 lead.

"I knew he was going to drop it," Pierre-Louis said. "The way our punter punted the ball, you've got to drop that thing. The way (Fish) was running, there was no way he was going to catch that ball."

Harvin and Pierre-Louis weren't the only first-year players to contribute to the victory. Backup quarterback Tim Tebow ran for 31 yards on eight carries, and redshirt freshman Dorian Munroe collected six tackles.

The big performances by the freshman class caused Pierre-Louis to issue a warning to the rest of the conference.

"We're going to run that thing," Pierre-Louis said. "We're going to win the SEC for the next four years."

Chris Hetland's birthday couldn't have gone much better.

Florida coach Urban Meyer said earlier in the week that the Gators' kicking position was up for grabs after Hetland went 3-of-10 on field-goal attempts during the regular season, but the struggling senior handled all the field-goal assignments in the game.

Hetland, who turned 23 years old Saturday, rewarded that vote of confidence by making a 33-yard field goal to open the scoring midway through the first quarter.

Arkansas got back in the game with an offensive scheme that featured more wrinkles than a kid who spent all day in the swimming pool.

Three players including only one quarterback threw touchdown passes for the Razorbacks.

Starting quarterback Casey Dick threw a 48-yard touchdown pass to Marcus Monk in the second quarter. In the second half, Felix Jones caught a 2-yard touchdown pass from starting tailback Darren McFadden and a 29-yard scoring strike from backup receiver Cedric Washington.

"We weren't going to hold anything back," Monk said. "It's too late in the season. There isn't any sense in (playing it safe)."

Florida got into the act in the fourth quarter when wide receiver Andre Caldwell threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to tight end Tate Casey.

Florida held Arkansas' high-powered rushing attack to just 132 yards on 35 carries. Ole Miss and Mississippi State were the only other teams to hold the Razorbacks below 4 yards per carry this season.

McFadden gained just 73 yards on 21 rushes. The Heisman Trophy candidate had entered the game with an SEC-leading 1,485 yards on 244 carries.

"That was the key going in, stopping McFadden and Jones, because they are just two great backs," Florida safety Reggie Nelson said. "For the most part, I thought we did a great job limiting those two."

McFadden said he hurt his ankle early in the second quarter, but he didn't say that the injury played much of a role in his performance.

"My ankle was just a little sore," McFadden said. "It got rolled up on one play, and it was just a little sore on me."

WYNN LIMITED The shoulder injury that has bothered Florida tailback DeShawn Wynn for much of the season kept the Gators' leading rusher out of the starting lineup.

Sophomore Kestahn Moore started in place of Wynn and delivered a 28-yard run in the first quarter that set up Hetland's 33-yard field goal. Moore finished with 32 yards on just three carries.

Wynn entered the game late in the second quarter and lost 2 yards on his only carry of the night.

When Jarred Fayson blocked an Arkansas punt in the second quarter to set up Florida's first touchdown of the night, it marked the Gators' eighth blocked kick of the year to set a school record.

Florida had blocked seven kicks in 1995. The Gators also had blocked two extra points in the Fiesta Bowl to give them an unofficial total of nine blocked kicks, but bowl statistics didn't count in team records then.

ETC.: Florida quarterback Chris Leak's 37-yard touchdown pass to Harvin in the second quarter made him Florida's all-time career passing leader. The touchdown pass also was the 100th of his career. Marcus Monk's 48-yard reception in the second quarter made him Arkansas' all-time leader in career touchdown catches. Monk's 24th career touchdown reception broke the mark set by Anthony Lucas, who played for Arkansas from 1995-99. Harvin was the first freshman to be named the SEC championship game MVP since LSU's Justin Vincent in 2003. The team to score first now has won the last seven SEC title games. The last 10 SEC championship games have been decided by 10 or more points. This marked Florida's SEC-leading sixth conference championship game victory. The Gators also won the championship game in 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996 and 2000.

For more coverage of Florida, visit GatorBait.net; for more on Arkansas, visit HawgSports.com.

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