Florida dominates fourth quarter to advance to Finebaum Final
By Joey Fairbanks (@fairbeezy)
The players on the Florida sideline raised their hands, in unison, with four fingers extended. The game was still tight, but they knew their leadership would carry them through.
“We’re a fourth quarter team,” said Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, “We were starting to build some momentum, and we knew if we stuck together and put good drives together, we were going to pull it out.”
The Gators did just that, with Tebow engineering three touchdown drives in the final 15:00 to lead his top-seeded team into the finals of the Paul Finebaum Invitational.
“What can I say? This is a bunch of gamers,” said Florida coach Urban Meyer.
Florida led by only one at the half, 14-13, when LSU’s Jordan Jefferson hooked up with Odell Beckham for a 41-yard score.
“That was a powerful play by Odell,” said LSU coach Les Miles. “Jordan took a mighty wind-up and just projectile launched the football toward the endzone. Odell was there, and had the sticky hands to entangle the pass and end the half on the very positive tone.”
The key to victory was the 254 yards Florida ground out in the run game, completely uncharacteristic of the vaunted LSU defense.
“Our offensive line deserves all the praise today,” said Meyer. “They got the push all day long, and Rainey, Demps and the crew took advantage of it.”
Chris Rainey scored two touchdowns, the first and the last of the afternoon. His 112 yards led the day, but Emmanuel Moody had the pivotal score to open the floodgates in the final quarter.
Percy Harvin returned an LSU punt back to the Tigers’ 42 yard line, and added a 16-yard run to leave the ball at the one-yard-line as the third quarter expired.
“We knew if we scored there, we’d be in the clear” said Rainey. “The defense beasted all day long, and the O had the rush game to get the job done.”
Though the LSU defense garnered most of the press coming into the game, it was the Gator front seven that brought consistent pressure and sacked Jefferson four times. The LSU signal caller had 202 yards through the air, but the -28 yards from sacks really hurt the rushing game.
“We were dismantled in the trenches all night,” said Miles. “Their defense brought a constant fire and sheer manly ferocity that our offensive line could not match.”
Tebow added two touchdowns through the air, including a one-yard strike to Riley Cooper with 3:29 left in the game to push the Florida lead out of LSU’s range.
Drew Allemon was the best scoring option for the Bayou Bengals, converting on three field goals on the afternoon. The only touchdown scored by Miles’ team was the Beckham reception on a Hail Mary just before the half.
“There was so much emotion after the last game, and we were unable to regenerate it at the start of this game,” said Miles, whose team came into the game after a blowout of No. 4 seed Tennessee. “They were able to impose their will all afternoon, and it did us in.”
Allemon’s third field goal of the day kept LSU within five with a little better than ten minutes left, but Tebow and his team embarked on a nearly seven-minute, 80 yard drive to reach the endzone and put the game out of LSU’s reach.
“I felt good heading out for that drive,” said Tebow, who finished the drive by hitting Cooper in the endzone. “The defense had played so well all day, it felt good to make their hard work pay off.”
With the win, the Gators head off to the finals of the Finebaum Invitational, where they will await the winner of one of football’s most bitter rivalries: Alabama – Auburn.
“We’re familiar with both teams,” said Meyer, who coach Auburn QB Cam Newton before his dismissal from the team. “We’ll wait to see who comes out victorious, and prepare accordingly.”
Tebow, the unquestioned spiritual leader of the Florida squad, summed it up best: “We vowed to ourselves that we would not lose the fourth quarter. We haven’t yet in this tournament, and we will not in the finals. It was a team effort today, so to the entire team goes the credit.”