- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 15, 2006

AUBURN, Ala. — Pandemonium descended on the Plains in the form of a dominating Auburn defense.

The 11th-ranked Tigers’ defense snuffed the national championship hopes of No. 2 Florida by shutting out the Gators after intermission en route to a 27-17 victory at raucous Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Rebounding from a first half that saw the explosive Gators (6-1, 4-1 SEC) run wild while sprinting to a 17-11 lead, Auburn’s stop unit authored three game-changing plays and limited Chris Leak and Co. to just 90 second-half yards to rearrange the BCS pecking order.

The first of those monster plays came on the first series of the third quarter and completely reversed the tenor of the evening. On what was Florida’s first three-and-out possession of the game, Auburn (6-1, 4-1) swallowed Florida punter Eric Wilbur after he bobbled the snap on his own 15-yard line.

Auburn reserve defensive back Jerraud Powers was officially credited with the punt block, but the entire Auburn defense swarmed Wilbur as he attempted to execute Florida’s opening punt attempt of the second half.

With his teammates downfield in coverage awaiting a punt that never came, Wilbur was snowed under and the ball came fluttering free, leaving Auburn backup fullback Tre Smith a 15-yard waltz to the end zone that put the Tigers ahead 18-17 with 10:51 remaining in the quarter.

Three possessions later, on Florida’s first possession of the fourth quarter, the Auburn defense rose up yet again with the Gators on the doorstep of the go-ahead score. On third-and-short from the Auburn 6-yard line, once-Heisman hopeful Florida quarterback Chris Leak scrambled left in the face of fierce pressure.

Instead of simply chucking the ball over the bench and accepting a short field-goal try, Leak pump-faked one too many times, pulling the ball back at the 15-yard line just as Auburn linebacker Tray Blackmon reached him.

Blackmon, playing the first game of his Auburn career after serving a six-game suspension for public drunkenness, batted the ball out of Leak’s right arm just as the senior slinger decided to throw the ball away. Blackmon picked up the ball, a call that was reviewed and upheld, and rumbled out near midfield to end the Florida scoring threat.

But on a night when Auburn’s offense couldn’t find the end zone and mustered only four John Vaughn field goals, the Tigers’ defense would have to make one last stand.

With one last chance to maneuver into position for a potential game-winning field goal, Leak and the Florida offense returned to the field still trailing 18-17 with just 3:16 remaining in the game. But the Gators’ last-ditch drive imploded before it began as Leak was intercepted on first down by Erick Brock to seal the win.

Three running plays later, Vaughn notched his fourth field goal from 39 yards out to put the Tigers ahead 21-17 with 35 seconds remaining. And then Auburn nickel back Patrick Lee added the finishing touch on Florida’s desperate final possession, scooping up a fumble on a ill-advised hook-and-ladder disaster and racing into the end zone as time expired to send the capacity crowd of 87,451 burnt orange maniacs at Jordan-Hare Stadium into upset ecstasy.

In the first half, Florida flexed its muscle of the future, using the sensational underclassman combination of flanker Percy Harvin and defensive end Derrick Harvey to build a 17-11 lead.

Harvin, the national prep player of the year last season at Virginia Beach’s Landstown High, showed off his scintillating speed and athleticism before intermission. The Gators spread out the Auburn defense with coach Urban Meyer’s three-wide sets and used the 5-foot-11 Harvin to scorch the Tigers on the edge. The speedster finished the half with 72 yards rushing on just four carries, and his final touch epitomized the potential of the freshman burner.

Moments after Auburn had trimmed the Florida lead to 10-8 late in the second quarter, Harvin took a pitch from the Florida 49-yard line at the left side of the Auburn defense, shook off a tackle attempt deep in the backfield from Blackmon and reversed his field a la Marcus Allen. Harvin then outran the entire Auburn defense before being pushed out of bounds at the Tigers 16-yard line. One play later, freshman backup quarterback Tim Tebow bucked his season tendency and scampered right with the Auburn defense stacked left, coasting into the end zone to put the Gators ahead 17-8.

And while Harvin wowed on offense, Harvey dominated on defense.

The redshirt sophomore who spent his prep days torturing quarterbacks and demolishing sack records as a standout at Eleanor Roosevelt High School (Greenbelt), took his game to the national spotlight last night. The 6-foot-4, 260-pound sackmeister spent the entire half in the Tigers’ backfield, recording 2.5 sacks and recovering a fumble as the Gators tormented Auburn quarterback Brandon Cox.


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