Florida entitled to one big finale
Beating Tide puts Gators in prime spot
ATLANTA - Florida appears headed back to the national championship game. Alabama picked the worst possible time for its first loss of the season.
Tim Tebow threw three touchdown passes - including the decisive score with just under three minutes remaining - to lead the second-ranked Gators to a 31-20 victory over No. 1 Alabama in the Southeastern Conference championship game yesterday. That should be enough to give Florida a spot in the Bowl Championship Series title game for the second time in three years.
Showing it could win a close game in a season of routs, Florida (12-1) went into the fourth quarter trailing, 20-17. But Jeff Demps, helping fill in for the injured Percy Harvin, scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 2-yard run with 9:21 remaining.
Tebow finished the scoring, hitting Riley Cooper on a 5-yard scoring pass with 2:50 left. Alabama (12-1) will likely have to settle for a spot in the Sugar Bowl, ruining its hopes of a seventh national championship.
Instead, mark down a spot for Florida.
The Gators came into the game ranked fourth in the BCS standings, but the win over unbeaten and top-ranked Alabama will surely move them into one of the top spots.
Their opponent almost surely will be Oklahoma, which routed Missouri, 62-21, in the Big 12 championship game.
Tebow was 14-of-22 passing for 216 yards and led the team in rushing with 57 yards. He tossed a 3-yard touchdown pass to Carl Moore to finish Florida's opening possession, went 5 yards to David Nelson to give the Gators a 17-10 halftime lead, and came through one more time to clinch the victory.
"That's a good team we just played," Florida coach Urban Meyer said. "We've come a long way as a team."
With Florida facing third and goal at the 5 after a rare sideline interference penalty, Tebow found Cooper breaking toward the middle in front of Marquis Johnson. The perfectly thrown pass - low enough to give no chance of an interception - was cradled by Cooper to make it a two-score game.
Joe Haden's interception ended any hope of an improbable comeback. Tebow was named the game's MVP.
The Tide were feeling good after Mark Ingram scored on a 2-yard run and Leigh Tiffin booted his second field goal, a 27-yarder that pushed Alabama ahead going to the fourth.
But Florida caught a huge break when Demps was dragged down short of the marker on third down, but Dont'a Hightower got a handful of facemask. The 15-yard penalty gave the Gators first down at the Bama 27.
Tebow took it from there. A 13-yard pass to Nelson. Then a 6-yarder to Nelson again to convert another third down by a yard. And finally, a quick pitch to Demps, who streaked around the left side and hurdled over two fallen players at the goal line for a 24-20 lead.