After rumbling toward the pylon and barely tumbling headlong into the end zone, Florida quarterback Danny Wuerffel didn't just clasp his hands together in prayer, as he usually does.
Not this time.
Instead, the Heisman Trophy winner jumped up with both arms raised and then pumped his right fist wildly.
His 16-yard run in the waning seconds of the third quarter all but sealed No. 3 Florida's emotionally-charged 52-20 win over archrival and No. 1 Florida State in the Sugar Bowl on Thursday night before a record crowd of 78,344 at the Superdome.
Coupled with Ohio State's last-minute win against No. 2 Arizona State in the Rose Bowl on Wednesday, the Gators (12-1) staked their claim to their first national title.
They also helped make amends for past shortcomings, as compared with Miami and Bobby Bowden's Seminoles (11-1), who had won an NCAA-record 11 consecutive bowls and had not lost one since 1981.
Under coach Steve Spurrier, the Gators were 2-3 in the post-season, including last year's debacle in the Fiesta Bowl against No. 1 and defending national champion Nebraska.
"I think we had false confidence going into the Fiesta Bowl last year," Spurrier said. "We had a lot of people in the country picking us to beat 'em, and we got clobbered. It was embarrassing because we didn't even compete hard.
"I just remember saying so often that if we got to the big game again, hopefully we'd give a better account of ourselves than we did out in Tempe last year."
But at the outset, it didn't look as if it would be a landmark evening for the Gators.
FSU quarterback Thad Busby, dared to pass by a Gators defense that was packed in near the line to stop Warrick Dunn, opened with a 55-yard bomb to wide receiver Andre Cooper.
Dunn, who had a career-high 185 yards in November's win over Florida and has been its greatest nemesis, was stopped twice, and then UF ended the Seminoles' threat by thwarting Pooh Bear Williams on a fourth and 1.
On came Wuerffel.
FSU sacked Wuerffel six times in the last meeting and hit him almost every time he dropped back to pass. The Seminoles' relentless pressure _ the key to slowing UF's pass-happy attack _ drew two penalties for late hits and the subsequent ire of Spurrier.
He insisted that FSU played "dirty" and questioned the integrity of Bowden and defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews.
After Spurrier waged a campaign for nearly a month to get the attention of the world, and in particular the Big 12 officials working the Sugar Bowl, Bowden admitted he feared his pass rushers might pull up a bit. But defensive ends Peter Boulware and Reinard Wilson contradicted their coach and said Spurrier's remarks would only make them more aggressive.
But Wuerffel figured to have more time even without a less-intense rush or some more protection from the referees.
For one thing, right tackle Mo Collins and left tackle Zach Piller started together for the first time since the Tennessee game Sept. 21, adding size and experience that was lacking when UF had to start redshirt freshmen Cooper Carlisle and Ryan Kalich up front.
Also, the Gators used the shotgun, a formation Spurrier once abhorred, on every play of their first possession. Wuerffel, under little pressure, completed 5 of 8 passes for 76 yards, including a 9-yard touchdown to Ike Hilliard with 9:58 left in the quarter.
In the first meeting, FSU jumped out to a 17-0 first-quarter lead.
Busby and the Seminoles, without Dunn even touching the ball, responded with drive that ended with a 43-yard Scott Bentley field goal with 7:49 left.
But after that, FSU's offense stagnated. The next four possessions all were three-and-outs, during which FSU netted a mere 7 yards.
The Gators scored late in the quarter on a 32-yard field goal by Bart Edmiston, who had missed a crucial 41-yarder that could have tied the score in the last game. They opened up a 17-3 lead when Wuerffel, under pressure, lobbed a ball for Hilliard on a crossing route.
Hilliard plucked it out of the sky in stride and turned up field on the left sideline for a 47-yard gain. Back down field, the Seminoles were called for a late hit, their first one, to add another 15 yards and put the Gators at the FSU 13.
Three plays later, tailback Fred Taylor bullied his way up the middle for a 2-yard touchdown with 11:29 left in the half. After the fourth straight three-and-out, the onus was squarely on FSU's defense, which entered the game as the nation's best against the run (59 yards per game) and third in total defense and scoring defense (229.5 yards and 11.1 points).
Then, for the first time in the game, FSU held the Gators without a first down.
Following a solid punt return by Dee Feaster, FSU converted a first down _ its first in about 15 minutes _ on a Busby sneak on third down. Facing another third down, Busby hit Peter Warrick for 23 and followed with a 29-yard touchdown to E.G. Green to cut the deficit to 17-10.
Back came Wuerffel. A 40-yard bomb to Jacquez Green on a third-and-16 set up another Wuerffel-to-Hilliard touchdown, a 31-yarder, to give UF a 24-10 lead with 5:18 remaining in the half.
The Seminoles only once before had allowed as many as 24 points in a game _ in their 31-24 win against Atlantic Coast Conference rival Virginia on Oct. 26.
The Gators' defense forced another three-and-out, but so did the Seminoles, aided by Florida's 11th penalty of the half. Busby, looking more poised than he had all season, directed a 66-yard scoring drive, capped by a 12-yard run by Dunn with 40 seconds left.
Prior to that run, Dunn had just 16 yards on 7 carries. But Busby had as great a turnaround. He finished the half 12-of-23 for 216 yards. He was 12 of 32 for 124 yards in the first game against UF.
The half then ended in wild fashion. Wuerffel, about to be sacked, tried a two-handed push throw to linebacker Vernon Crawford, who returned it 22 yards before being dragged down.
After forcing a punt on the opening series of the second half, FSU narrowed the deficit to 24-20 on a Bentley 45-yard field goal.
The much-maligned Florida special teams then came up with a pivotal sequence. Robby Stevenson hit a punt over Feaster's head that rolled to the FSU 2. It was a career-long 69-yarder.
With Dunn hampered by cramps and hopping to his locker room for an IV, FSU had to punt from its end zone, and Jacquez Green returned it 26 yards to the FSU 24.
Wuerffel culminated the short drive with a bullet pass threaded to Hilliard, who shook free of Mario Edwards and scored for a 31-20 lead with 5:43 left in the third.
After his defense stopped FSU, Wuerffel marched the Gators to their decisive score. A 28-yard strike to Green moved the Gators to the FSU 16, and on third-and-19, Wuerffel, with his shotgun-enhanced pocket collapsing, dashed toward the right corner of the end zone for the score.
Midway through the fourth quarter, tailback Terry Jackson scored from 42 yards to give UF the record for most points in the Sugar Bowl.