Because Florida place kicker Jeff Chandler missed one chance and Alabama place kicker Chris Kemp made the most of a second chance, Florida's national championship hopes took a significant hit today.
Chandler missed an extra-point attempt on Florida's opening possession of overtime and Kemp's miss of an extra point was nullified by an offside penalty on Alabama's subsequent try. Then Kemp booted the 21st-ranked Crimson Tide to a 40-39 victory that ended the third-ranked Gators' 30-game home winning streak before a stunned record crowd of 85,721 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
The victory was Alabama's second in as many weeks over a top 15 team, a run that was preceded by a last-play loss at home to Louisiana Tech that seemed likely to cost Coach Mike DuBose his job. Athletic Director Bob Bockrath did resign in the days after that game, adding to off-field turmoil that began with DuBose's admission earlier in the season that he had lied about a personal relationship with a school employee.
Even today, there was trouble. Hours before kickoff, Alabama announced that split end Shamari Buchanan was being held out of the game while school officials investigate whether he received help getting a speeding charge dropped in April--a potential NCAA rules violation.
"We have been through so many things, whether it be a coaching situation or an [athletic director] being changed and then players not being able to play," running back Shaun Alexander said. "But there's always going to be something. God just pushes us through it."
Said wide receiver Antonio Carter: "When you win, everybody is trying to be your friend. We know we have a great coach and we're going to play our hearts out for Coach Dubose."
Last week, Alabama (4-1 overall, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) overcame six turnovers to defeat then-No. 14 Arkansas. Today, the Crimson Tide possessed the ball for more than 41 minutes, stayed with Florida's high-powered offense and did not fold when the Gators took a 33-26 lead on a touchdown with 5:15 left in the fourth quarter, and then forced the Crimson Tide to punt.
Florida's Darrell Jackson fumbled the punt and Alabama's Marvin Brown recovered at the Florida 22. And on fourth down and two, Alexander burst through the Florida line for a 13-yard touchdown run.
Florida played offense first in overtime, and scored on a six-yard pass from Doug Johnson to Reche Caldwell. However, Chandler sent his extra-point kick wide right.
Alexander then ran 25 yards for a touchdown, giving Alabama a chance for the victory. Kemp's kick also sailed wide right, but the offside penalty gave him another chance. The second try nearly went wide left, but Alabama got the win and control of the SEC's Western Division.
"I've always thought about being in the situation to be relaxed and put the crowd out of my mind, and just hit it," Kemp said.
For Florida, it is the second consecutive season in which a missed kick in overtime has been costly. Last season against Tennessee, after the Volunteers' Jeff Hall made a 42-yard field goal to start overtime, the Gators' Collins Cooper missed a 32-yard try, ending the game.
"You try to do the best you can to get the ball through the uprights," Chandler said. "You throw all technique out the window when that happens. I threw away a little too much and it ended up hurting me. I feel like I let our guys down. I tried to let them forget about last year but this is even worse than what happened last year."
Despite the loss, Florida Coach Steve Spurrier said he believes the Gators (4-1, 2-1) still have a chance to win the SEC Eastern Division title and go to the conference championship game. Florida defeated Tennessee earlier this season, so the Gators would win a tie in the standings with the Volunteers. But Georgia remains undefeated in SEC play.
"If we can force some punts, stop some third downs and take care of the ball better on offense, we can still get to the [SEC title game in Atlanta]," Spurrier said. "We've got to regroup and win the rest of our conference games. We've been in this position before and won them."
Alabama controlled the ball mostly with Alexander, who had 106 yards rushing and three touchdowns. In addition, quarterback Andrew Zow passed for 338 yards.
"All we had to do was play and execute our offense," Zow said. "It shows that this team is for real."