Florida Downs Kentucky As Jeanne Nears

Saturday, September 25th 2004, 5:43 pm
By: News On 6

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) _ With Hurricane Jeanne approaching, Florida squeezed in its game against Kentucky and beat the Wildcats 20-3 Saturday behind Ciatrick Fason's career-high 210 yards rushing and two touchdowns.

Kickoff was moved up 6 1/2 hours to 11:30 a.m. EDT because of the growing storm, which bore down on the state's Atlantic coast with winds near 115 mph. Three million people were told to evacuate.

It didn't keep the fans away from Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, better known as The Swamp. The announced attendance was 89,741. Proceeds from concession sales from the game were to go toward relief funds for the victims of the three hurricanes that have already hit Florida this season.

The earliest start time the Gators have ever had in Gainesville seemed to leave both teams groggy and sluggish at the start. No. 16 Florida took a 10-3 lead early in the second quarter when Fason broke through the middle, bounced off six tacklers and went 46 yards.

Florida (2-1, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) held the Wildcats to 207 yards of offense, 56 coming on a first-quarter drive for a field goal, and 10 first downs. The Gators have won 18 straight games in the series and it was the first time they held an SEC opponent without a touchdown since shutting out Mississippi State in 2001.

Kentucky (1-2, 0-1) also was forced to punt seven times, committed two turnovers and turned the ball over on downs once. The Wildcats gained 73 yards on 27 carries.

Fason put the game away on an 7-yard scoring reception from Chris Leak with four minutes left to play. He had five catches for 43 yards and a career-best 31 rushes.

Matt Leach kicked field goals of 40 and 21 yards, but missed one and had another blocked.

That was enough offense to bail out Leak, who had one of his most erratic games since becoming the starter a year ago this week. In that game against Kentucky, Leak led the Gators back from an 18-point deficit for a 24-21 victory.

Leak completed 25 of 43 passes for 261 yards Saturday, but threw three interceptions _ two in the red zone. In the third quarter, he also overlooked a wide-open Fason on a fourth-and-goal situation at the Kentucky 3, instead hitting Chad Jackson outside the end zone for a pointless 2-yard gain.

On the game's opening drive, Leak threw an interception deep in Kentucky territory and the Wildcats cashed it in for Taylor Begley's career-long 51-yard field goal.

After that, the Gators had little problem handling an offense that, the week before, racked up 51 points and 560 yards against Indiana. Following the field goal, the Wildcats never advanced past Florida's 31.

Shane Boyd, mostly settling for quick passes to the flat, was 17-of-35 for 134 yards and rushed for another 28 yards. He also threw an interception at midfield, with Fason scoring on the next play.