Da Boot Sports
By: Terrill J. Weil
BATON ROUGE, LA - As the final seconds ticked off the clock the capacity crowd of 80,677 began to storm the field. Both goal post fell like the #1 ranked Gators did that night in Death Valley.
Tiger fans celebrated on the field as it was the first time ever LSU had defeated a No. 1-ranked team. It took LSU officials
almost an hour after the game ended to clear the field.
Top ranked Florida (5-0, 3-0) came into Tiger Stadium that Saturday night looking to extend their nine game winning streak over a LSU (4-1, 2-1) team who played very poorly the week before, struggling to squeak out a 7-6 win over Vanderbilt.
The Tigers used a powerful running attack lead by Kevin Faulk and the LSU defense played inspired football putting tremendous pressure on Florida quarterback Doug Johnson all night long, sacking him five times while forcing five Gator turnovers.
“We were sick and tired of hearing that we had no chance to win this game,” LSU running back Kevin Faulk said.
LSU took the opening kickoff and began a nice drive starting from their own 20, moving the ball 58 yards in seven plays before a Rondell Mealey fumble at the Gators 22 yard line blew an early scoring opportunity.
LSU's defense flexed their muscles early on Florida's first offensive possession. Chuck Wiley would sack Doug Johnson for a 14 yard loss on 2nd and five before Troy Twillie tackled Erron Kinney for a four yard loss setting up a 4th and 23 from the Gators' 12 yard line.
Florida punter Robby Stevenson blasted a 58 yard punt, but Kevin Faulk made him pay for out kicking the coverage returning the punt 30 yards to Gators' 40 yard line.
The Tiger offense wasted little time going 40 yards in one play as LSU quarterback Herb Tyler ran to the right side on an option, keeping the ball and following blockers up the sideline for the touchdown. The score sent the Tiger Stadium crowd into a frenzy as Wade Richey kicked the extra point to put the Tigers up 7-0 with 8:42 left in the first quarter.
Three plays later Cedric Donaldson would intercept a Doug Johnson pass at the LSU 25 yard line and return the ball to the Florida seven yard line setting up a 1st and goal for the Tiger offense.
Once again, LSU wasted little time as fullback Tommy Banks blasted up the middle, diving into the end zone from seven yards out to extend the Tigers' lead to 14-0 with 7:44 still left in the 1st quarter. The drive went seven yards on one play. LSU had now scored two touchdowns in the last 98 seconds.
The Gators showed no signs of panic trailing by two scores early answering the LSU score by driving 80 yards in 13 plays. Fred Taylor would punch the ball in from two yards out cutting the LSU lead to 14-7 with 2:14 left in the first quarter.
Both teams would blow scoring opportunities in a scoreless 2nd quarter as Wade Richey missed a 39 yard field goal attempt, followed by Chis Cummings blocking a 44 yard field goal attempt by the Gators as the first half ended with LSU leading #1 ranked Florida, 14-7.
The Gators took the second half kickoff and easily drove 80 yards in only seven plays to tie the game at 14-14 as Fred Taylor would score from one yard for his second touchdown of the contest.
With the game still even at 14-14 early in the 4th quarter, Cedric Donaldson stepped in front of a Doug Johnson pass and returned the interception 31 yards for a touchdown. Danny Boyd added the PAT giving the Tigers a 21-14 lead with 13:13 left in the game.
On the ensuing kickoff, Florida's Bo Carroll fumbled on the return and Troy Twillie recovered for the Tigers at the Gator 30 yard line as the Tiger Stadium crowd remained deafening.
Once again, LSU scored quickly making the Gators pay. After a 15 yard pass completion to Abram Booty and a four yard run by Kevin Faulk, the Tigers faced a 2nd and six at the Florida 11 yard line. Herb Tyler again ran the option to the right and kept the ball for a 11 yard touchdown run. With 11:40 left on the clock, LSU now lead 28-14 and Death Valley was rocking.
Steve Spurrier and his Gators again showed no panic trailing by 14 points as they began their next drive from their own 22. Florida would eat 4:54 off the clock, driving 78 yards in 13 plays with Fred Taylor scoring from three yards out to cut the Bayou Bengals' lead to 28-21 with 6:44 remaining in the contest.
The Gators got the ball right back after a LSU three and out, starting from their 21 yard line. But Florida would shoot themselves in the foot on back to back plays, as an illegal procedure penalty wiped out a 19 yard gain, followed by a personal foul penalty that backed the Gators up to the shadow of their own goal line. Facing a 3rd and 22 from their nine, Doug Johnson fired the ball deep down field. Raion Hill would pull the ball in at the LSU 46 yard line for the 4th interception of the game for the Tiger defense.
With 2:47 left in the contest the LSU offense was able to keep the ball, running the game clock down to zero for a huge 28-21 upset victory.
The loss snapped the Gators’ two long SEC winning streaks,.... 25 games overall and 19 straight on the road. Florida also failed to get a touchdown pass in the contest, snapping its NCAA record streak of 62 straight regular-season games with at least one score through the air.
“Our defense won tonight,” Cedric Donaldson said. “If their defense was good, ours was better. If their offense was good, ours was better. We had a total team effort and that’s what it takes.”
Offensively, Kevin Faulk, Herb Tyler, and Tommy Banks each had a great game. But in my opinion the MVP of this contest on offense was true freshman wide receiver Abram Booty. Booty finished the game with 101 yards on four catches. All four of his grabs were huge ones that helped keep LSU drives alive. The biggest one came on the final drive of the game when Booty caught a 15 yard pass across the middle in the teeth of the Gators defense on a 2nd and six to keep the drive going allowing LSU to run the clock down for the epic win.
This LSU team went on to finish the 1997 season 13th in the final AP poll with a 9-3 record, including a win against Notre Dame in the Independence Bowl to avenge one of their regular season losses. (Notre Dame 24, LSU 6 in Tiger Stadium).
This game would go on to be not only the biggest win in the Gerry DiNardo era, but also one of the best ever in school history.