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 No. 2 Gators to a 31-20 victory over No. 1 Alabama yesterday in the Southeastern Conference championship game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
"We put it in our quarterback's hands," Gators coach Urban Meyer said. "We said, 'Tim, go win us the game with the receivers,' and he did."
The victory should be enough to give Florida a spot in the BCS 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 to fill in for injured Percy Harvin, scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 2-yard run with 9 minutes, 21 seconds left.
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 for a seventh national championship in school history.
Instead, mark down a spot for Florida, which won the title during the 2006 season with a rout of Ohio State in the championship game. The Gators came into the game ranked fourth in the BCS standings, but the impressive win over unbeaten and top-ranked Alabama will surely be enough to move them into one of the top spots.
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 off 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 win.
"That's a good team we just played," Meyer said. "We've come a long way as a team. We had a lot of injuries during the season, but we had a lot of guys step up."
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.
"One more year! One more year!" the Florida fans chanted afterward, hoping their junior quarterback will return for his senior season.
Alabama trailed at halftime for first time this year, but just that it was close put the Gators in an unusual position.
Florida came in as the nation's third-highest scoring team (46.3 points a game) and its average margin of victory was a staggering 37 points.