No. 1 LSU rallies for 28-24 win over No. 9 Florida, hitting every gamble
BATON ROUGE, La. - Les Miles should head straight to one of those Mississippi River casinos.
Clearly, the LSU coach is on quite a roll.
The No. 1 Tigers and their go-for-broke coach pulled off one gamble after another before Jacob Hester hit the jackpot, scoring on a 2-yard run with just over a minute remaining for a 28-24 victory over ninth-ranked Florida on a thrilling Saturday night in Death Valley.
Playing as a top-ranked team in the AP Top 25 for the first time since 1959, LSU was in serious trouble much of the game. Their top-rated defense was shredded by Florida's double-threat quarterback, Tim Tebow, who led the Gators to a trio of 10-point leads.
But they couldn't hold off the Tigers.
LSU (6-0, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) took advantage of two second-half turnovers and barely converted a pair of fourth-down runs on their final drive. Finally, Jacob Hester powered into the end zone to give LSU its first lead of the night - and the only one that mattered.
"We pretty much knew it was going to be a chance to win the game," Jacob Hester said. "Coach Miles said, 'I believe in you. I don't want a tie. I want to go out and win this thing.' When your head coach has that kind of respect and trust in you, you want to prove something to him."
Florida (4-2, 2-2) lost for the second week in a row, the first time that's happened to Urban Meyer since he was a little-known coach at Bowling Green in 2002. And, in all likelihood, the Gators' hopes of repeating as national champions have been snuffed out just halfway through the season.
"I don't know if I've ever done this, but I guarantee we'll be back," Meyer said defiantly. "The Florida Gators will be back. Smokin'."
Tim Tebow threw for a pair of touchdowns and ran for another, leading Florida to a 24-14 lead with 15 minutes remaining. But the Gators, who failed to complete a comeback against Auburn the previous week, were the victims of LSU's rally this time.
"I thought our defense hung in there," Meyer said. "They are so young and the offense has got to move the ball. That's twice now. It's two weeks in a row."
LSU kept rolling the dice and coming up with winners. The Tigers scored two touchdowns on fourth-down plays and another after pulling off a fake field goal. Then it was Jacob Hester, bulling his way into the end zone to put LSU ahead with 1:09 remaining.
When LSU knocked down Tim Tebow's final long pass in the end zone, the record crowd of 92,910 let out its biggest roar of all.
The Tigers should still be No. 1 when the poll comes out Sunday. And, with second-ranked Southern California losing to Stanford in a 24-23 stunner, really there's no doubt about it.
"We took great strides in showing our character and ability to come from behind," Miles said. "I like the way this team is coming together."
Miles helped the cause by going all-in every chance he got.
Backup quarterback Ryan Perilloux scored on a fourth-and-goal run from the 1 in the second quarter. Starting quarterback Matt Flynn pulled off a fake field goal that led to Keiland Williams' 4-yard TD run in the third quarter. Flynn tossed a 4-yard scoring pass to Demetrius Byrd on fourth-and-goal with 10:15 remaining.
But the Tigers weren't done.
First, with 7 minutes left and the ball on their side of midfield, LSU passed up a punt and went for it needing nearly 2 yards. Jacob Hester took the handoff and put his head down. The chains came on after he was tackled. First down by about the length of the football.
"I gamble more than you think," Miles said with the devilish grin of someone who doubled down and hit blackjack. "Their offense is a possession offense. ... They keep the ball. We knew if we got some fourth-down opportunities, we knew were going to make those calls. We were going to make 'em. We just knew that."
They did, over and over again.
LSU kept driving down the field, but found itself facing another fourth-and-1 at the Florida 6. Most coaches would have taken a chip-shot field goal and their chances in overtime. Not Miles, who apparently decided all the cards were going his way. He also was mindful that kicker Colt David already had missed from 43 and 37 yards.
Jacob Hester got the ball again and dove forward. The chains came out again. Another first down with less than a yard to spare.
"All the guys were hoping coach Miles would go for them," Williams said. "Even the defensive coaches were trying to get him to go for it."
On the other sideline, Meyer couldn't believe what he was seeing. Just how frustrating was it?
"Very frustrating. Very frustrating," he said.
Finally, Miles' players cut him some slack. On third-and-goal from just outside the 2, Jacob Hester took another handoff on virtually the same play that had worked twice before, falling into the end zone with his 23rd carry of the night.
Flynn leaped into the air and pumped his right fist. Touchdown, LSU.
Jacob Hester, who finished with 106 bruising yards, trotted off the field to another rousing ovation at Tiger Stadium, there the home team is 30-2 over the last five years.
Tim Tebow got the ball across midfield on the final possession. But his final, desperate heave was batted down in the back of the end zone.
Facing a defense that had two shutouts and was allowing less than 175 yards per game, Tim Tebow passed for 158 yards and rushed for 75. But the Gators let the momentum slip away with two turnovers.
"It is something that just cannot happen," Tim Tebow said. "We have got to straighten it out."
The burly quarterback threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Kestahn Moore early in the second quarter to make it 10-0, and scored on a 9-yard scramble late in the half to send the Gators to the locker room up 17-7.
LSU got a huge emotional boost on its first possession of the second half. At about the time Williams was scampering into the end zone to make it 17-14, Stanford was closing out its shocking upset of USC, which was still No. 1 in the coaches' poll.
When the score was announced, the crowd went nuts. But Tim Tebow quickly silenced them with a 37-yard touchdown pass to Cornelius Ingram.
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