University of Florida

Alabama’s first half in SEC Championship Game one for the record books

Alabama wide receiver Gehrig Dieter (11) runs into the end zone for a touchdown against Florida during the first half of the Southeastern Conference championship NCAA college football game, Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016, in Atlanta.
Alabama wide receiver Gehrig Dieter (11) runs into the end zone for a touchdown against Florida during the first half of the Southeastern Conference championship NCAA college football game, Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016, in Atlanta. AP

Top-ranked Alabama first-half dominance in Saturday’s 54-16 Southeastern Conference Championship Game victory over No. 15 Florida made its way into the record books.

The Crimson Tide became the first team in the conference title game’s 25-year history to score at least 10 points in a quarter in which it had negative yards. The Crimson Tide ended the first quarter with 16 points despite having minus-7 yards on its lone offensive possession.

In addition, Alabama’s 33 first-half points were the most points scored in the opening 30 minutes of an SEC Championship Game. Alabama accomplished this despite being outgained 191-172 in the first half.

The Gators made it into the SEC championship annals as well — for good and for bad.

The good: Despite having his first punt blocked and returned for a touchdown, UF punter Johnny Townsend broke his record for punt return average in the SEC Championship Game. His four punts credited to him went for an average of 54.5 yards, besting his 51.8-yard average in last year’s game. The blocked punt is credited as a team punt, not toward Townsend’s average.

The bad: Quarterback Austin Appleby’s three first-half interceptions were the most in a half in the championship game’s history and tied for the second most in a game.

LOCAL STANDOUTS

For the second year in a row, Antonio Callaway was a bright spot for the Gators in a losing title-game effort.

The sophomore receiver and former Booker T. Washington standout had 63 receiving yards and opened the scoring with a 5-yard touchdown catch from Appleby on Florida’s first drive of the game.

He wasn’t the only local player to make plays for UF, though. Defensive lineman Keivonnis Davis, a Miami Central High alumnus, recorded his first career sack in the third quarter and finished the game with five tackles and a quarterback hurry.

BOOST FOR DEFENSE

With an average of 10 first-team players on UF’s roster out in each of its past three games, Florida’s defense received a much-needed boost Saturday.

Senior linebacker Jarrad Davis, who is referred to as the “heart and soul” of the Gators, started against Alabama. He missed the previous three games with an ankle injury he sustained against Arkansas on Nov. 5.

Prior to the injury, Davis led UF’s defense with 56 tackles and had six tackles for loss. He finished the game with four tackles before injuring his ankle again in the fourth quarter.

HONORING 25 YEARS

Before the 25th edition of the championship game started, the two coaches to take part in the conference’s first title game met at the 50-yard line.

Former UF coach Steve Spurrier and former Alabama coach Gene Stallings, along with former SEC commissioner Roy Kramer — who created the SEC Championship Game back in 1992 — took part in the game’s opening coin toss.

Spurrier and Stallings faced in four of the first five conference title games, with the Gators winning three of the four.

THIS AND THAT

▪ Saturday’s SEC Championship Game is the final one to be played inside the Georgia Dome, which will be replaced by Mercedes-Benz Stadium next football season. The last college football game in the dome will be the Dec. 31 Peach Bowl, one of two College Football Playoff semifinal games.

▪ UF defensive lineman Taven Bryan was ejected in the fourth quarter.

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