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Florida Is Just Overwhelming

January 03, 2002|JOHN KLIMA | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The offensive most-valuable-player trophy Devin Hester took home to Florida carried the likeness of a traditional running back striking a pose. But Hester and his teammates used unconventional athleticism and creative play-making to lead Florida past California, 34-24, in the third annual CaliFlorida Bowl on Wednesday at El Camino College.

Hester's 85-yard kickoff return in the first half tied the score, 7-7. It started Florida's display of athletic football that at times seemed to bewilder California.

"We play a lot of roll-out, take-it-as-it-happens ball," said Hester, a 5-foot-11, 180-pound Riviera Beach Suncoast High product who had 20 touchdown receptions last season. "We're not going to let anybody take us out of our game."

Hester had only three catches for 11 yards, but his electrifying kickoff return set the stage for quarterback Gavin Dickey of Tallahassee Lincoln. Dickey, Florida's Gatorade state player of the year, completed six of 13 passes for 129 yards and engineered a nine-play, 93-yard drive that resulted in a five-yard scoring run by James Jackson that gave Florida a 14-7 first-quarter lead.

"We have a lot of guys who are playmakers," said Dickey, who helped Florida build a 21-10 halftime lead and is considering Florida, Clemson and USC. "That's something you can't teach or coach. I think the style we played made California uneasy at times."

California's fate was sealed with 5:27 left when Florida lineman Baraka Atkins of Sarasota Booker recovered a snap over the head of quarterback Drew Olson of Piedmont and scored to make it 34-17.

California failed to produce a sustained scoring drive until late in the fourth quarter when quarterback Ben Olson of Thousand Oaks threaded a 26-yard scoring pass to James Finley of Manual Arts to make the score, 34-24. Finley had five receptions for 102 yards.

"[Florida] has a bunch of great athletes with a different style," said Ben Olson, who completed 10 of 11 passes for 118 yards. "We just made too many mistakes and gave [Florida] too many opportunities to do what they're good at."

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