Gator Kicker Turns Around Awful Season

Jan. 9, 2007

GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) - When Chris Hetland kicked that 42-yard field goal, it was bound to be a great night for Florida.

When his 40-yarder made it through the uprights moments later, the senior's ugly season was on its way to a gorgeous conclusion.

Hetland had visualized kicking a field goal in the waning seconds to give the Gators a national championship. His two second-quarter field goals that helped bury No. 1 and previously unbeaten Ohio State will have to do.

"I hit two 40-plus yarders, man, by far better than my long of the year," he said in the delirium on the field after the game. "I couldn't ask for a better way."

Probably no kicker in college football this season had struggled so much or faced so much ridicule. When he trotted onto the field for his 42-yard try, there were jokes in the press box about Florida being better off punting.

After all, he had made only four of 13 field goals all season, none longer than 33 yards.

It had been a perplexing season, especially after he made 16 of 17 in the 2005 season, with a long of 47.

But he cleared his head of whatever had been haunting him, nailing a 42-yarder that put Florida up 24-14 with six minutes to play in the half.

Moments later, after Ohio State inexplicably went for it on fourth-and-1 from its 29 and failed to make it, Hetland added a 40-yarder that put the Gators ahead 27-14 1:53 before halftime.

"I wanted to prove everybody wrong," he said.


REGRETTABLE: Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, trying to rally his team from a 24-14 deficit late in the first half, elected to go for it on fourth-and-1 at his own 29.

Chris Wells was stacked up at the line short of the first down by tackle Ray McDonald and linebacker Earl Everett.

Florida came right back with Chris Hetland's field goal to extend the lead.

The first question Tressel faced in his postgame news conference dealt with his decision to risk so much so deep in his end of the field.



"We thought we could make it," Tressel said. "The good news was our defense did a great job of holding them to three points, which was outstanding. But it ended up being the wrong call, clearly."


EMOTIONAL WIN: Florida defensive back Reggie Nelson couldn't help but feel a little emptiness mixed with the joy of the Gators' national championship. His mother, Mary Lakes, died Dec. 21 after a three-year battle with cancer.

She was buried Dec. 31, along with her son's No. 1 jersey.

"It's tough not having her," he said. "It's been a real emotional week."

He had hardly talked the days after her death, and missed the telephone conversations they would have immediately after every game. Still, he tried to share the joy.

"I've been thinking of my mom every second of the day," he said. "This is real special. She would have enjoyed it."

And a national title seemed to help him break through his grief.

"It feels good to smile," he said, "and this smile is going to stay on my face for a long time, even while I'm sleeping."


NOT-SO-BIG TEN: The Big Ten finished 2-5 in bowl games, with blowout losses in both of its BCS contests.

The Michigan team that so many felt deserved a rematch with Ohio State for the national title was drubbed by Southern California, 32-18 in the Rose Bowl.

The Big Ten's only bowl victors were Wisconsin, 17-14 over Arkansas in the Capital One Bowl, and Penn State, 20-10 over Tennessee in the Outback Bowl. The SEC, led by Florida, went 6-3.

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