The game ended ages ago, and yet the Florida Gators remained on the field at Dolphin Stadium in the early moments of Friday morning, laughing, hugging, posing for pictures and ignoring pleas to head toward the locker room.
It was a party no one wanted to end.
“This is everything anybody could have dreamed of,” said Florida defensive tackle Terron Sanders, a red-shirt sophomore from Southeast High.
The second-ranked Gators had just knocked off No. 1 Oklahoma 24-14 to win their second national title in three years and the third in the program’s history.
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Florida is also the first team to win a pair of national titles in the BCS era.
“There’s no better feeling,” Florida receiver Percy Harvin said. “Nobody gave us a chance to win the game. They said we weren’t tough enough. We’re No. 1. We’re No. 1, baby.”
The Gators are No. 1 because quarterback Tim Tebow was his typical self, pushing the offense with his legs and moving them with his arm. The third-place finisher in the Heisman Trophy voting last month passed for 231 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions, and ran for 109 yards.
“I promised the guys that I would go out and play with all my heart,” Tebow said. “I was so motivated. Oklahoma is a great team, and they came out and played hard. I’m so proud of my teammates right now. I can’t put it into words. It was just an incredible night.”
Tebow became the first player in college football history to win the Heisman Trophy, the Maxwell Trophy, the Davey O’Brien Award and to have been part of two national championship teams.
“In the second half Tim put it upon himself that (the offense) was going go out there, score some touchdowns and make some plays,” Florida cornerback Joe Haden said. “He was stepping up his game. Instead of handing off, he would just keep it and run it up there, and just showed that he wanted to win the game.”
Tebow carried the ball six times for 48 yards on the third-quarter drive that ended with Harvin’s 2-yard run that gave the Gators a 14-7 lead.
The junior quarterback then iced the championship with a four-yard touchdown pass to David Nelson with 3:07 to play in the fourth quarter. It was vintage Tebow. He took the shotgun snap, ran toward the line, then jumped and fired the ball to Nelson.
“I love that play,” Tebow said. “Oklahoma was really coming at me. David made a great catch. I was so excited.”
Tebow took over in the second half, and Harvin rushed for a game-high 122 yards and caught five passes for 49 more yards.
But the night belonged to the Gator defense that shut down Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Sam Bradford and a Sooner offense that scored more than 60 points in each of its previous five games.
“My hats off to our defense,” Nelson said. “They were challenged all month. They won this game for us.”
“They bit down,” Oklahoma running back Chris Brown said. “We knew coming in that it was going to be a four-quarter matchup. We knew what we had ahead of us. We knew we had to play four quarters. They came up with a big second-half interception and a lot of other plays. They stopped us.”
The big second-half interception came from Florida safety Ahmad Black, who took the ball away from Oklahoma receiver Juaquin Iglesias at the Florida 24-yard line. It was a huge play, because Florida had just taken a 17-14 lead but Bradford had the Sooners on the move.
“Our defense always feels like it we have to make a stand,” Haden said. “They have a great offense, scoring 60 points a game, and we felt like we had to make a stand.”
The defense did just that, taking Bradford out of the game and helping the Gators move to the top of the college football world.
“It’s crazy right now,” linebacker Brandon Spikes said. “We had a lot of work, a lot of time, and just got the job done.”