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Sunday, June 16, 2024

Urban Meyer had no choice but to pace the sidelines and watch helplessly.

For the second straight year, Auburn had the Gators' number.

As an 18-year-old freshman kicker from Ft. Lauderdale swung his right leg, the staring contests commenced.

Tim Tebow dropped to one knee and gazed off into the distance - he didn't blink. He watched Auburn players sprint onto the field that he loved since he knew it existed.

Percy Harvin did the same - kneeled and stared.

As Tebow left the field, he removed his eye-black stickers. The Gators' warrior had been defaced.

So had UF's record.

"It feels like you're getting stabbed," senior offensive tackle Carlton Medder said. "We came out, stumbled a little bit and got hit in the mouth. We just fell apart. We don't expect to lose any game. We got a lot of people crying. All the heads were down."

It all finally ended: The Gators'18-game home winning streak, Meyer's perfect home record.

UF's road to a repeat national championship got a whole lot tougher Saturday as the Tigers downed the Gators 20-17 in front of a packed crowd of 90,685 in The Swamp.

The Gator chomp was transformed into the Gator whimper as Tigers kicker Wes Byrum mocked UF's trademark celebration after his game winning kick.

"You could see some of the seniors in there, it seems like their life is almost over," freshman cornerback Joe Haden said. "I've never experienced anything like this. It hurts so bad.

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"You just don't believe the game is over. You just think the offense is going to kick it off to you and the offense is going to go down and score. You just can't believe the game is over until you see them run onto the field."

Chas Henry, who shanked a 25-yard punt late in the fourth quarter, threw his towel to the ground and banged his helmet on a nearby trunk.

Arms waved like wet spaghetti noodles as Byrum attempted his kick, but unlike last year, Jarvis Moss wasn't around to heroically save the Gators from a last-second field goal.

And for the first time since 1992, UF was shut out in the first half.

The offense finally showed inconsistency after an overwhelming start to the season.

"We didn't necessarily play smart, didn't play well," Meyer said. "We're supposed to be a pretty good offense, and we couldn't get the defense off the field. I don't feel like we blocked them all day. I think any time we got singled up with our corners, they kind of picked us apart throwing those out cuts."

After the game, a young boy outside the stadium solemnly shredded pieces from his orange and blue shaker.

But considering the Gators have only lost to one school in the past 21 games, they are a long way from giving up.

They rallied following a loss to Auburn last year, and they think they can do it again.

"[We'll] learn from this loss," senior strong safety Tony Joiner said. "The season's not over yet."

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