MIAMI — Promise delivered. Promise kept.
Ten games after Florida junior quarterback Tim Tebow stood teary-eyed and distraught following a one-point upset loss to Ole Miss on Sept. 27, apologized to Gator fans and made a promise that no player in the country would play harder or push a team harder than he and that no team would play harder than the Gators for the remainder of the season, Tebow made good on his word.
Aided by a stellar performance by the Gators' defense — which held Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford to 26-of-41 for 256 yards and two interceptions — Tebow led the Gators to a 24-14 victory over Oklahoma in the BCS national title game in front of 78,468 at Dolphin Stadium.
"We knew we were going to have to fight for four quarters," Tebow said. "We didn't execute, including myself, the way we wanted to all the time. But my teammates came out, and they battled for four quarters. I'm so proud of them. This is a dream come true."
The Gators (13-1) won their second BCS national title in three seasons and third national title overall.
This is the second championship under coach Urban Meyer, now in his fourth season.
"I think the fans got one of the greatest college football games that ever occurred, at least in the BCS games," Meyer said. "This is a great opportunity for me to thank my team and tell them that's one of the best teams I've ever had the opportunity to be around. I love them. I'm proud of them, and they are national champs."
Tebow, the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner still miffed about finishing third in this year's voting, had 23 carries for 107 yards and was named the game's Most Valuable Offensive Player.
"Tebow stood up in the locker room at halftime and said something inspirational," sophomore safety Major Wright said. "We knew we were going to win after that because Tebow's a man of his word."
Tebow's defense bailed him out of uncharacteristic mistakes and held the game in check while the Gators battled an Oklahoma defense that played much better than most anticipated. Then he did what he has done over and over since making that now-famous promise: come through in the clutch.
Holding precariously to a 17-14 lead, Tebow led the Gators on an 11-play, 76-yard drive over 6:52 and ended with a 4-yard jump pass to David Nelson with 3:07 left.
"Coach Meyer told me, 'Go out there and win this game for us,' " Nelson said.
In the weeks leading up to the game, much of the talk was about the two prolific offenses. But two days before the game, Florida linebacker Brandon Spikes said the analysts had it wrong. Defense, Spikes said, wins championships.
Spikes was right.
In a game featuring two of the nation's top three scoring offenses, it was the first scoreless opening quarter in a BCS title game since the inaugural one between Tennessee and Florida State in 1999. At halftime, the score was tied at 7 — the first BCS title game to be tied at the half — and defense was the major story line. Oklahoma (12-2), which had scored at least 21 first-half points in every game this season, drove the ball inside the Gators 10 three times but scored just once.
"They have a great defense, but we squandered some scoring opportunities," Bradford said.
Tebow threw two interceptions, yet his defense bailed him out both times.
Florida took a 14-7 lead on its second possession of the second half — a 2-yard run by receiver/running back Percy Harvin with 4:21 left in third. Oklahoma had an opportunity to score soon after, but Carlos Dunlap blocked the field goal of Oklahoma's Jimmy Stevens with 1:13 left.
With Florida leading 17-14 following a 27-yard field goal by Jonathan Phillips, the Gators' defense again came up strong. Bradford's pass to Juaquin Iglesias was intercepted by Ahmad Black — his seventh of the season.
"In the offseason, we told the defense if they could get better and learn to make stops, we could win a championship," Harvin said. "And they did tonight."
Antonya English can be reached at email@example.com.