JACKSONVILLE — Andre Debose said before Florida's game against Ohio State that he'd personally be extremely embarrassed if the Gators didn't get the win, and he planned to do everything he could to make sure the Gators didn't finish with a losing record.
He did his part.
The sophomore had a 99-yard kick return that gave Florida the go-ahead score in Monday's 24-17 win over Ohio State in the Gator Bowl. It was the longest play in Gator Bowl history as well as Florida's longest kickoff return for a touchdown in its 39 bowl appearances. Debose was named the game's MVP.
"Coach Durkin (D.J., special teams) just called the play and I just followed (Jeff) Demps and he just kind of led me down the promised land for the touchdown," Debose said. "It meant a lot to me. I just tried to do anything that I can do to help the team. There is no feeling like it."
Debose's three career kickoff returns for a touchdown are a UF career record, surpassing Bo Carroll (1997-2000) and Stacey Simmons (1986-88), who each had two.
OUT ON TOP: Florida QB John Brantley's tumultuous career ended with a win, and coaches and teammates said that was exactly what he deserved. Brantley, the son of former QB John Brantley and nephew of ex-Florida star LB Scot Brantley, said despite some struggles he'll miss playing on Saturdays with the Gators.
"We had our ups and downs. The last couple of years haven't been the best," Brantley said. "But I just stuck with my teammates and coaches, and we made the best of it. Just to get a good win against a good team like Ohio State, it almost makes the season kind of worth it. Just to go out with a high note, for those young guys to go into the offseason."
INJURY UPDATE: OL Xavier Nixon (knee) did not return to the game after he was injured with 1:43 remaining in the first quarter, but walked off the field after the game and said, "I'm okay. I'll be fine." OL Chaz Green, a Tampa Catholic alumnus (ankle) is not serious, Florida coach Will Muschamp said, and freshman LB Chris Johnson sustained injured ribs.
ONE LAST BLOCK: When senior RB Chris Rainey blocked the punt of Ohio State's Ben Buchanan, it was his second of the season and sixth of his career. Rainey holds both the UF and SEC records for blocked punts, and is the active leader nationally. Rainey didn't seem all that impressed by the record.
"I'm just doing my job," he said. "I love special teams. That's the No. 1 thing I always talk about in practice, I want to do everything it is possible to win games, and that's what wins games."
RARE FEAT: Freshman S De'Ante "Pop" Saunders' fumble recovery in the first quarter was his third in the past four games. It is just the third time since 1996 that a true freshman has had three takeaways in a season, joining Janoris Jenkins (2008) and Daryl Dixon (1999).
Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]