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Gators take a bite out of BCS title

Florida gets a big second half from Tim Tebow and defeats Oklahoma, 24-14.

January 09, 2009|Chris Dufresne

MIAMI — The two high-powered offenses fizzled and the two Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks combined to throw four interceptions.

The track meet that was anticipated and all but promised was halted by punts, penalties, injuries, sometimes clueless officiating and the usual buzz killer -- television timeouts.

Fifty years after the Baltimore Colts versus the New York Giants, this was hardly the greatest game ever played.

When it counted Thursday night, though, a safety ripped an interception out of a receiver's hands, quarterback Tim Tebow threw an old-fashioned jump pass and Florida defeated Oklahoma, 24-14, to win the Bowl Championship Series title in front of 78,468 at Dolphin Stadium.

Tebow recovered from two first-half interceptions -- he threw only two all season entering the game -- to take over the second half and secure Florida's second title in three years and offensive player-of-the-game honors.

Florida's BCS title win was the third straight for the Southeastern Conference and fourth since the 2003 season.

Gators fans chanted "One more year!" as Tebow, a junior, took his postgame bows. As a freshman in 2006, Tebow was a part-time, bull-in-a-china-shop weapon as a backup during Florida's national-title run, but this championship was all his to savor.

After a 31-30 loss to Mississippi at home in September, Tebow vowed after the game that no player in the country would play harder than he would the rest of the season.

Florida then ripped off one win after another through Thursday night's title victory.

"I promised the guys that I would go out and play with all my heart," Tebow said. "I was so motivated tonight. . . . I can't put it into words -- it was just an incredible night."

Tebow was the man.

With the score tied at 7-all in the third quarter, he made runs of 12, 15 and 12 yards on a 75-yard scoring drive that ended with a two-yard run by Percy Harvin to put Florida up, 14-7.

He later led Florida to a field goal that put the Gators ahead, 17-14, in the fourth.

That was followed, on Oklahoma's next drive, by the turning point in the game, when Gators safety Ahmad Black stole what looked like a completion out of the hands of Sooners receiver Juaquin Iglesias.

"The play of the game was Ahmad Black snatching the ball away from the receiver," Florida Coach Urban Meyer said.

Florida took over at its 24 and Tebow then led a 76-yard drive to clinch the game, capping his brilliant second half with a four-yard jump pass for a touchdown to David Nelson with 3:07 left.

"It was the kind of drive that you have to have in a game as close as this one," Meyer said. "It meant Oklahoma needed two touchdowns to win, and it took important time off the clock."

Tebow completed 18 of 30 passes for 231 yards with two touchdowns, and also rushed for 109 yards in 22 carries.

"The biggest thing is his ability to run and scramble," Oklahoma Coach Bob Stoops said. "They got players going left, players going right, and he keeps it. A lot of it is design and a lot of it is him."

Harvin, nursing a sore ankle, led the Gators with 122 yards rushing.

The argument over this year's national champion may rage on at Utah, Texas and USC, but the chance for a split title is virtually dead.

There was an outside shot, with a close Oklahoma win, that the Associated Press might have crowned a different champion. But when the final poll was released, Florida received 48 of 65 first-place votes and finished No. 1 easily.

Utah Coach Kyle Whittingham, whose team finished 13-0 after a Sugar Bowl win over Alabama, will hold a news conference today to discuss the way a controversial season ended.

Really, though, there's nothing anyone can do now to deny one-loss Florida (13-1) its collection of victory spoils.

Oklahoma (12-2) will be kicking itself for weeks. The Sooners' offense, which averaged 54 points a game this season, never got in sync. The frenetic, no-huddle style Oklahoma wanted to play was slowed early by the game's crawling pace.

"Clock issues, they waved off a flag, whatever, it interrupted play quite a bit," Stoops said.

With the score tied at 7-7 in the second quarter, Oklahoma blew two key scoring opportunities inside Florida's 10. First, Gators defensive tackle Torrey Davis stuffed running back Chris Brown on fourth-and-goal and then, right before the half, Major Wright intercepted a Sam Bradford pass at the one with three seconds left.

"We had some opportunities to really make a difference in the first half, and came up short," Stoops said.

Bradford said he should have never thrown the pass.

"I tried to force one in there when in all reality I should have thrown one out of the back of the end zone and taken three points," he said.

Bradford, this season's Heisman Trophy winner, completed 26 of 41 passes for 256 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.

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