These Guys Can't Play Nice

Times Staff Writer

Final full weekend of football.

Final days of fall.

Final exams not far away.

So what happens?

The silly season begins in earnest, and with embarrassing results that would have had John Heisman covering his eyes in shame.

At Gainesville, Fla., No. 11 Florida certainly didn't want to lose to No. 9 Florida State in the game's final minute, 38-34, and get knocked out of the Southeastern Conference championship game.

The Gators wanted the celebrating Seminoles hopping up and down on the "F" at midfield at the Swamp even less.

When the Seminoles began to dance, the Gators vigorously defended their turf.

Punches were thrown, at least one helmet went flying, but no serious injuries were reported -- other than a black eye for good sportsmanship.

Police used pepper spray to separate the 100 or so combatants, the brawl marring an eye-grabbing game that ebbed and flowed until P.K. Sam caught a 52-yard touchdown pass from Chris Rix for the go-ahead score with 55 seconds left.

"I have no idea what happened," Florida Coach Ron Zook said when asked about the rumble. "But I promise you, if our guys were involved, we'll get it straightened out."

The teams had scuffled before the kickoff of several games during the 1990s, but this was their first postgame fight.

Meanwhile, the Georgia-Georgia Tech game, won by the No. 5 Bulldogs, 34-17, featured eight penalties for late hits or unsportsmanlike conduct and a nearly nonstop woofing contest among players.

Silliest penalty of the bunch was the call against Georgia Tech quarterback Reggie Ball for shoving a Georgia trainer after getting knocked out of bounds near the Bulldog bench in the first half.

Ball, who suffered a possible concussion and could not play in the second half, repeatedly was hit late. It wasn't immediately clear when Ball was injured.

And there was more on a Saturday when a good number of people seemed in desperate need of anger management.

Syracuse players and assistant coaches climbed into the stands at Rutgers to scuffle with fans after the Orangemen lost, 24-7. Campus police and state troopers kept the peace.

Three players and at least three assistants went to the aid of Syracuse fans, who reportedly were being "bothered" by Rutgers supporters.

What, did somebody point out the lopsided final score to the Syracuse fans?

Syracuse's Steve Gregory was not among those who clashed with the fans, but he explained the charge of the Orangemen this way: "That's hard for older guys, to be ending your season like this. Sometimes things get to you. That's how it goes."

No, not really.

MAC Showdown

Josh Harris and No. 22 Bowling Green will face Ben Roethlisberger and No. 15 Miami of Ohio in the Mid-American Conference championship game Thursday, a quarterback matchup the Pacific 10 would die for.

Harris led the Falcons into the title game by throwing three touchdown passes and catching a fourth during a 31-23 victory over Toledo on a muddy field at Bowling Green, Ohio. The Falcons' victory also set up a rematch with Miami, which defeated Bowling Green (10-2, 7-1 in the MAC) last month, 33-10.

"Ever since that game, we talked about the opportunity to play them again," said Harris, who passed for 256 yards, ran for 75 more, and scored on a 48-yard pass play. "I can't even celebrate this win. We want to win the MAC."

Roethlisberger awaits, having directed the RedHawks to a 56-21 victory Friday over Central Florida that improved Miami to 11-1, 8-0. Roethlisberger completed 24 of 29 passes for 327 yards and five touchdowns against Central Florida, the RedHawks' 11th consecutive victory.

Anticipating a rematch for the conference title this week, Bowling Green officials greased up the goalposts before Saturday's game against Toledo, the better to keep fans from destroying the school's only set.

As it turned out, the few fans who rushed onto the field celebrated at midfield, where players from each team clapped each other on the back and exchanged friendly greetings.

Say Goodnight, Hokies

Virginia ended a four-year losing streak to No. 21 Virginia Tech, 35-21, snagging statewide bragging rights with the teams set to become Atlantic Coast Conference rivals next season.

"I have a lot of respect for the Hokies, but I was getting tired of hearing about the Hokies and Virginia Tech. It's our time," Virginia running back Wali Lundy said after running for three touchdowns and catching a pass for a fourth.

"It's huge," senior quarterback Matt Schaub said after throwing two touchdown passes for the Cavaliers (7-5). "To go out and get a win against those guys is huge."

Virginia Tech, once hopeful of gaining a BCS bowl berth, ended with an 8-4 record after winning its first seven games.

Officially Hoop Season

Jared Lorenzen, known affectionately around Lexington, Ky., as the "Great Wide Hope," ended his career at Kentucky by completing 17 of 39 passes for a meager 121 yards during a 20-7 loss to Tennessee.

Lorenzen never quite lived up to his promise (maybe it was because of his 275-pound girth), but he managed to complete 862 passes, second-most in SEC history. Peyton Manning had 863 completions while at Tennessee in the mid-1990s.

At the end, Lorenzen was overshadowed by teammate Derek Abney, who became the first player in Division I-A history to have at least 2,000 yards receiving, 2,000 kickoff return yards and 1,000 punt return yards in his career. Abney played against the Volunteers despite having a broken bone in his foot.

(Not) Bowled Over

Texas Christian made a fuss last week about turning down an invitation from the GMAC Bowl because it conflicted with final exams.

Then the No. 19 Horned Frogs (11-1) went out and played like a team that had already called it a season, barely holding off winless Southern Methodist, 20-13.

TCU's loss to Southern Mississippi last week ended its hopes of playing in a BCS game or even in the Liberty Bowl. The Horned Frogs are eligible to play in the GMAC Bowl on Dec. 18 at Mobile, Ala., as Conference USA's second-place team, but Athletic Director Eric Hyman indicated the Horned Frogs would rather study than play.

Final exams are scheduled for Dec. 15-19 at TCU.

The Feel-Good Item

Mount Union extended its winning streak to 53 consecutive games with a 39-14 victory over Wisconsin La Crosse in the Division III playoffs, one shy of its NCAA record. Mount Union's last loss was an overtime defeat to Rowan in the 1999 playoffs.


Times wire services contributed to this report.

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