Nov. 13, 2004
By MARK LONG
AP Sports Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) – Chris Leak threw a career-high six touchdown passes to lead the Florida Gators to a 48-14 rout of South Carolina on Saturday night and send fired coach Ron Zook out with a postseason berth.
The Gators won their 16th consecutive homecoming game, beat the Gamecocks for the 14th straight time and became bowl eligible for the 14th year in row.
It also was Zook’s most lopsided Southeastern Conference victory in three seasons. Zook even looked like Steve Spurrier for a day, having Leak throw TD passes with the game well in hand.
Athletic director Jeremy Foley said he planned to ask Zook, who was fired last month after the latest in a series of embarrassing losses, to stick around for the bowl game.
The Gamecocks (6-4, 4-4) became bowl eligible last week, and despite the loss, have a chance to finish the season on a high note next week against in-state rival Clemson.
Florida (6-4, 4-4) plays at No. 11 Florida State in the season finale. The Gators haven’t won in Tallahassee since 1986, making a victory against South Carolina almost imperative.
Leak did his part.
The sophomore finished 18-of-31 for 319 yards and didn’t give way to backup Gavin Dickey until there was less than two minutes to play.
Leak’s best throw of the night came on Florida’s opening series of the third quarter. He rolled right and threw a perfect 56-yard pass to Chad Jackson to extend Florida’s lead to 28-7.
Leak had two more beauties in the fourth. He hit Andre Caldwell in stride for a 61-yard score that made it 41-7, then found Dallas Baker wide open down the middle for a 39-yarder.
The game was over long before then, especially with the Gamecocks missing their top quarterback and wide receiver.
Starting quarterback Dondrial Pinkins re-injured his shoulder last week against Arkansas and didn’t play.
Backup Syvelle Newton got the start, but was replaced by freshman Blake Mitchell late in the third quarter after two interceptions.
Mitchell’s third pass was picked off. Newton returned in the fourth but threw his third interception. Mike Rathe, a senior who has played sparingly in his career, then took over.
Making matters worse, Troy Williamson – the league’s leading receiver at 89 yards a game – sprained his left ankle and sat out much of the second half.
South Carolina scored on its second possession, then punted seven times and had four turnovers on its next 11 drives. The Gamecocks scored again with 1:48 to play.
The Gators played without linebackers Channing Crowder and Travis Harris for the second straight week, and it looked as though the Gamecocks would take advantage of their absences. They had 99 yards rushing at halftime, but too many first-half mistakes left South Carolina in too big a hole to recover.
Leak’s first two touchdown passes came after miscues.
Jeremy Mincey intercepted a pass from Newton and returned it 23 yards, setting up a 24-yard touchdown pass from Leak to Tate Casey. South Carolina running back Cory Boyd knocked the ball out of Mincey’s hand, but it bounced out of bounds before the Gamecocks could recovered.
Jemalle Cornelius blocked Josh Brown’s punt three series later, and Tony Joiner recovered to set up a first-and-goal at the 9.
On third down, Leak lofted a pass into the back of the end zone for Ciatrick Fason. The running back bobbled it once before securing it for the score.
Casey’s second touchdown put the Gators up 21-7 with 27 seconds to play in the first half. On third-and-goal from the 4, Leak connected with his tight end just under the crossbar.