(Thursday, January 8th)
Final Score: (1) Florida 24, (2) Oklahoma 14
Miami, FL (Sports Network) - Tim Tebow's resiliency paid off and the Florida Gators became national champions for the second time in three years by beating Oklahoma, 24-14, in the BCS title game.
Tebow, the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner, threw a pair of touchdown passes, including the sealing four-yard strike to David Nelson with 3:07 remaining in the game, as the top-ranked Gators turned away No. 2 Oklahoma in a contest that was short on offense until the second half.
In a game that figured to be an offensive showcase with the teams combining for nearly 100 points a contest, Florida's defense came up huge when it counted the most, stopping a team that had at least 60 points in its last five contests.
"It never gets old, I promise you that," said Florida coach Urban Meyer. "At a great institution like Florida you should be able to get people championships, but these guys overcame a lot."
The Gators (13-1) stopped reigning Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford and the Sooners twice inside the five-yard line in the opening half, and Florida blocked a field goal try late in the third to earn its third national championship.
Tebow connected on 18-of-30 passes for 231 yards and ran for 109 yards. Gators star wide receiver Percy Harvin, who suffered a high ankle sprain in a game against Florida State and then missed the SEC title game win over then- No. 1 Alabama, had a huge night with 125 yards rushing and a touchdown, and also catching five passes for 49 yards.
Exactly two years ago, the Gators waffled Ohio State, 41-14, but the game against the Sooners was much closer, thanks in part to a pair of interceptions from Tebow, who equaled his total for the entire season.
Those were in the first half, though. In the final 30 minutes, the junior from Jacksonville took over, sacrificing his body with bruising runs.
It was after Florida's lone loss this season, September 27, to Ole Miss, when Tebow declared he'd go all out to drive his team to a championship.
"I promise you one thing: a lot of good will come out of this," Tebow said at the time. "You have never seen any player in the entire country play as hard as I will play the rest of this season and you'll never see someone push the rest of the team as hard as I will push everybody the rest of this season, and you'll never see a team play harder than we will the rest of this season."
The Gators, who had a 249-107 rushing yards advantage, won their final 10 games.
"I think we were motivated from that," said Tebow. "I think we learned we have to come out every week and play with passion, and enthusiasm and play for each other. I think that's what we did."
After the game, Tebow didn't say if he'd skip his senior season to make himself eligible for the NFL Draft.
Bradford threw a pair of touchdown passes to tight end Jermaine Gresham for the Sooners (12-2), who won the BCS national title game following the 2000 season at the Orange Bowl. Same city, different result, as the Sooners were beaten in the BCS championship contest for a third straight time, also faltering after the 2003 and '04 campaigns, to LSU and USC, respectively.
"In the first half we squandered some opportunities, we had to score points, and that really kind of hurt," said Bradford. "In the second half when we needed to make plays, we just couldn't do it."
Tebow was named the offensive MVP. Carlos Dunlap, who blocked a 49-yard attempt by Jimmy Stevens with 1 1/2 minutes left in the third, was the standout defensive player.
Oklahoma lost for the fifth time in its last six bowl games, falling to 4-6 under head coach Bob Stoops in postseason play.
"The defense needed to play better to win," said Stoops. "Regardless of what the score is you've just got to find ways to make an extra play or two to win the game."
Bradford finished the game 26-of-41 for 256 yards with a pair of interceptions, while Chris Brown had 22 carries for 110 yards. Gresham had eight receptions for 62 yards.
Gresham lost his shoe during an 11-yard TD catch less than three minutes into the final quarter, as the Sooners tied the game at 14.
Harvin then rumbled 52 yards down the right sideline to set up the Gators in position to take the lead, and Jonathan Phillips kicked a 27-yard field goal with 10:45 remaining.
Safety Ahmad Black then came up with a crucial interception for the Gators, taking the ball away from Oklahoma wide receiver Juaquin Iglesias. A game- sealing 76-yard drive ensued, with Tebow converting a 3rd-and-12 with a completion, and then finishing the march with a jump pass to Nelson at the back of the end zone.
After the Sooners turned the ball over on downs, Florida ate up the final 2:26 off the clock.
The first quarter resulted in a pair of Oklahoma punts and a Tebow interception as he was picked off by Nic Harris.
After a scoreless opening period, the offenses heated up early in the second. Tebow accounted for 86 yards of a 12-play scoring drive that stretched into the quarter. He culminated it with a 20-yard TD pass to Louis Murphy, who stretched the ball over the goal line as he was being tackled, 58 seconds into the period.
Bradford immediately responded by running an effective hurry-up offense, throwing a six-yard scoring pass to Gresham in the back of the end zone less than three minutes later.
On the ensuing Florida possession, Oklahoma defensive tackle Gerald McCoy dropped back in coverage for an interception on a short pass over the middle.
"I was off rhythm a little bit early," said Tebow. "They were doing really good things. Coach Stoops did a good job in game planning, made me hot, try to get the ball out quick. They did a good job of trying to get to me early on and we had to make adjustments."
That gave the Sooners the ball at the Florida 36, and Brown ran 17 yards to the nine, and two more runs by the junior put the ball at the one, but the Gators came up huge. Brown was stood up on the next two rush attempts, with Torrey Davis stopping the running back in the backfield to turn the ball over on downs.
The Gators punted on their next series, and Bradford led the Sooners inside the 10, but that drive ended in disaster. Bradford's pass to Manuel Johnson near the goal line went off the receiver, and Florida safety Ahmad Black tipped the ball to Major Wright for the interception.
During the third quarter, Tebow called his own number a few times, and on one particular play bowled over a defender and then signaled to get the crowd involved.
"If I was trying to run or run some people over to try to get the crowd into it and get the momentum, then that's what I was going to try to do," said Tebow. "We had some open holes and made a few plays."
Harvin's two-yard touchdown run off a direct snap gave the Gators a 14-7 lead with 4:21 remaining in the third.
The crowd of 78,468 was the largest to ever watch a game at Dolphin Stadium...Florida running back Chris Rainey suffered a leg injury in the first half and was carted to the locker room...Dunlap's block was the ninth of the season for the Gators, tying a school record. He had three blocks this season...Florida's plus-21 turnover margin set a school record...The Gators are 4-1 all-time in BCS bowl games...Bradford now has 7,841 career passing yards, surpassing Josh Heupel's mark of 7,456 for second on the all-time OU list.
01/09 01:37:16 ET