(Saturday, December 6th)
Final Score: (2) Florida 31, (1) Alabama 20
Atlanta, GA (Sports Network) - Tim Tebow threw for 216 yards and three touchdowns and led two fourth-quarter scoring drives to overcome a three-point deficit, as second-ranked Florida spoiled top-ranked Alabama's national title hopes with a 31-20 win in the SEC Championship and most likely vaulted themselves into the BCS title game against the Oklahoma Sooners.
Florida's (12-1) road to the Bowl Championship Series title match hinged on besting the top-ranked Tide, as the Texas Longhorns (11-1), ranked third in the BCS, are idle while Oklahoma (12-1), No. 2 in the BCS, blew past Missouri, 62-21, later Saturday in the Big 12 championship -- breaking the 60- point barrier for a fifth consecutive game.
Florida was ranked No. 4 in the BCS coming into this crucial matchup, while Texas fell victim to Texas Tech on November 1, resulting in its being shut out of the Big 12 title bout.
"I think there's a lot of great teams out there but the SEC is a great conference," Tebow said -- speaking about the Gators playing for the national championship. "I think the winner (of the SEC) deserves to play for it."
Tebow was 14-of-22 passing and led the team in rushing with 57 yards, while Jeffrey Demps ran for a score on 53 yards. Riley Cooper, Carl Moore and David Nelson each posted a TD reception for the Gators, who captured their eighth conference championship and are just two years removed from a national title.
"I thought we ran the ball well. We had to take shots down the field and we hit them," Florida head coach Urban Meyer said. "That's a good game we just played. We've come a long way as a team. We had a lot of injuries during the season -- but had a lot of guys step up."
The Gators posted nine consecutive victories in convincing fashion since suffering their lone loss to Ole Miss back in late September to put themselves into the often controversial BCS fray. They also topped Alabama without one of their best offensive weapons.
Percy Harvin, a dual threat at both running back and receiver, has been key to the Gators' success this season, leading the team with 35 catches for a team-high 595 yards and seven scores. He has also accumulated 538 rushing yards and nine TDs on the ground but was sidelined with a sprained right ankle suffered during last Saturday's 45-15 win over then No. 23 Florida State.
It was the first time in the 17-year history of the SEC title game that two programs met for the title holding the top two spots in the Associated Press poll.
Glen Coffee and Mark Ingram both scored rushing touchdowns for Alabama (12-1), which was fresh off a 36-0 thrashing of rival Auburn in the annual Iron Bowl but failed in its attempt to notch an unblemished campaign. Coffee had 112 yards, and Ingram posted 21 in defeat.
John Parker Wilson hit on 12-of-25 passes for 187 yards, with one crucial interception, while Julio Jones had five receptions for 124 yards.
While the Crimson Tide have won the SEC a staggering total of 21 times, the last title came back in 1999. Head coach Nick Saban also failed in his attempt to play for a second national title, a feat that he accomplished for the first time as the leader of the LSU program in 2003. Alabama now likely seems headed to the Sugar Bowl.
"We played tough all game long. It was a hard game and there was no give up," Wilson said. "Florida played well but we struggled in the second quarter -- really sputtered on offense. We played well in the second half, fell behind and gave it all we had."
Tebow and the Gators began to erase their three-point deficit on the opening possession of the fourth, buoyed by a costly Alabama personal foul call. On 3rd-and-4 from the Alabama 46, Demps looked to be short by a yard, but a 15- yard penalty made it 1st-and-10 from the 27. The Gators were forced into a 3rd-and-5 at the nine-yard-line but Tebow fired a strike to Aaron Hernandez for six yards, and Demps was able to high-step into the end zone two plays later for a 24-20 lead with 9:21 to play.
Alabama got a taste of the Gators' defense on its next turn, as Wilson was sacked for a loss of 11 on 3rd-and-8, setting up another Florida score.
The Gators moved to the Alabama one-yard-line and faced a 2nd-and-goal situation. Two plays later, after a five-yard penalty on Florida, Tebow hit Cooper on a slant to polish off the 65-yard drive for a 31-20 score with 2:50 minutes to play.
Wilson was intercepted on the next series to effectively seal the win for Florida.
"I don't think it was my will but his will," Tebow said -- speaking about coach Meyer's will to win. "It's our team's will and relentlessness. It's our attitude and focus -- that we don't want to be denied in anything we do."
Alabama posted a three-and-out to start the game and the Gators offense went to work. Florida moved 59 yards in nine plays, and Tebow found Moore for a three-yard touchdown to gain the early 7-0 lead with 8:17 remaining in the first quarter.
The Crimson Tide responded quickly with a couple big plays. Jones took a short reception on the first play of the drive and sprinted down the right sideline for 64 yards -- setting up Coffee's 18-yard scoring jaunt on the next play to even the score.
Florida went three-and-out on the ensuing possession, leaving Alabama with a short field in which to work. The Tide needed just 12 yards to set up Leigh Tiffin's 30-yard field goal with 3 1/2 minutes left in the first.
The Gators failed to gain a first down for the second straight drive and the quarter ended with Alabama holding a 10-7 lead, while Florida trailed for the first time since its debacle against Ole Miss.
The Tide's next drive gained Gators territory, and Saban tried a fake punt on 4th-and-9 from the 32. Punter P.J. Fitzgerald was stuffed just past the line of scrimmage, and Florida took over.
Tebow threw a strike to Cooper that resulted in a 51-yard gain to the Alabama four-yard-line, but the Tide's defense held firm. Jonathan Phillips came on to kick a 19-yard field goal for Florida that tied the game at 10-10.
The Gators' defense did their job on the following series, holding Alabama to another three-and-out. Tebow followed by leading Florida on a 57-yard, nine- play drive, taking a 17-10 lead with just under three minutes left with a five-yard TD pass to David Nelson.
A failed drive on the Tide's final possession saw them trailing at the break for the first time this season.
Alabama was undeterred, opening the second half with a punishing drive that tied the game at 17-17. A balanced attack saw the Tide convert on three third down plays to move 91 yards in 15 plays, shaving nearly seven minutes from the clock.
Wilson hit Jones for 18 yards on 3rd-and-7 from their own 12, Coffee got six on a 3rd-and-5 call from the Gators' 20 and Ingram burst through the line for three on 3rd-and-1 from the five-yard-line before finding the end zone on the next play.
Florida moved the ball in turn but was stymied at the Crimson Tide 25, and Phillips was off the mark on a 42-yard attempt to keep the game tied.
The Tide regained the lead with their second straight scoring drive, moving the ball with relative ease in gaining a 1st-and-10 at the Florida 12. However, three plays from there netted only two yards, and the Gators were able to hold them to three when Tiffin booted one through from 27 yards with eight seconds left in the third for a 20-17 advantage.
While Alabama owns a 21-14 series advantage over Florida, the Gators won the previous meeting in a 28-13 final in 2006...Cooper had two catches for 56 yards, Nelson grabbed three balls for 27 yards and Moore's lone catch went for the score...Florida was 7-of-13 on third-down conversions while Alabama was 5- of-12...The Gators won the time of possession 32:04-27:56.
12/07 01:05:12 ET