Friday, January 9, 2009

Gators Outslug Oklahoma for National Championship

By JC De La Torre

It wasn't the game the world expected, but it still was one heck of a ballgame as the Florida Gators won a defensive battle against the #1 ranked Oklahoma Sooners 24-14 for Florida's second national championship in three years and their third in school history. The Gators' victory made it three consecutive national championships for the Southeastern Conference, something that hasn't been done since the 1940's. It was Florida's defense and the playmaking of 2007 Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Tim Tebow that were the difference in this game.

Oklahoma took the opening kickoff to the Florida 38 but a sack by Brandon Hicks on the 2008 Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford lost 14 yds and on third down the Sooners only managed 7 yds forcing the Sooners to punt. The Gators drived to midfield, but Tebow threw only is third interception of the season as defensive back Nic Harris stepped in front of a Gator wide receiver and returned it to the Oklahoma 46 yd line. Normally, this is an easy score for the highest scoring offense in college football but the Gators defense stiffened, forcing the drive to stall at the Florida 47. Two drives, no points for the vaunted Oklahoma offense and the first quarter ended scoreless.

Back came the Gators, driving 86 yds in 12 plays, capping the drive off with a 20 yd Tebow touchdown pass to Louis Murphy to give Florida a 7-0 lead. Oklahoma's offense rumbled to life on the ground. Chris Brown rushed for 16 yds, then 14 yds, and 15 yds to set up Sam Bradford's 6 yd score to tie the game at 7.

The Sooners would take momentum, intercepting Tebow for the second time this time big defensive tackle Gerald McCoy dropping into coverage and intercepting an under duress Tebow pass, setting Oklahoma up at the 28 yd line. The Sooners tried to pound the Gator defense, running Chris Brown on five straight carries. The Gators put together two goal line stands, stuffing Brown on 3rd and 4th and goal from the 1 yd line. Florida took over at their three yard line and Percy Harvin promptly ran 45 yds to get the Gators some breathing room. With 2:32 left in the 1st half, Oklahoma got the ball back and drove 74 yds on the arm of Bradford, driving all the way to the Florida 6 yd line with 10 seconds left. On first and goal, Bradford's pass to the goal line was tipped and picked off by Major Wright, keeping the game tied at 7 going into halftime.

The start of the third quarter continued the defensive team as the teams exchanged punts on their first possessions of the 2nd half. Florida began pounding the middle of the tougher than expected Oklahoma defense with their battering ram - their star quarterback Tebow. Tebow's runs drove Florida 75 yds in 13 plays, setting up Percy Harvin's 1 yd plunge to give the Gators a 14-7 lead with 4:21 left in the third quarter. Oklahoma tried to answer as Bradford drove the Sooners to the Florida 32 before the drive stalled. Oklahoma kicker Jimmy Stevens attempted a 49 yd field goal but it was blocked by Carlos Dunlap. Florida couldn't take advantage, having their drive stall at their own 38 yd line as the third quarter expired.

Bradford took advantage, driving his offense 77 yds and setting up an 11 yd touchdown pass to tight end Jermain Gresham to tie the game at 14 with 12:13 to play. The Gators came right back, as Percy Harvin rushed for 52 yds and 12 yds to set up Jonathan Phillips 27 yd field goal to give the Gators 17-14 advantage with 10:45 left. Bradford tried to rally the Sooners, driving Oklahoma to midfield. Bradford tried to hit his star receive Juaquin Iglesias deep over the middle but Gator defensive back Ahmad Black ripped the football away from him, intercepting the pass. Tebow and the Gators took advantage, driving 76 yds in 11 plays, mostly behind the running of Tebow and Harvin. On 2nd and goal from the Oklahoma 4 yd line, Tebow faked a run into the line and fired a pass David Nelson to give the Gators a 10 point lead with 3:07 left. Bradford's Sooners went four and out, his last pass being batted down by the Florida defense. The Gators took over and ran out the clock to clinch the BCS title.

Tim Tebow hasn't announced if he's coming back to Florida, but if he doesn't, he's ended his Gator career as one of the most decorated players in college football history. Two National Championships, one Heisman trophy, two Maxwell awards, a Davey O'Brien award, a BCS Championship Game Offensive Player of the Game and an AP National player of the year - plus the admiration of people across the world. He may be the greatest Florida football player ever to grace an Orange and Blue uniform. Selfishly, I hope he comes back, I don't want to have seen the last of Superman, as his teammates call him, in a Gator uniform. Urban Meyer became the first coach to win two BCS Championship games and is only the 5th coach in college football history to win two national championships in his first four years at his school.

JC De La Torre's Tampa Bay Sports Blog offers our congrats to Gator Nation and the University of Florida for their third National Championship in school history.

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