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-winning Wuerffel jumped up with both arms raised, then pumped his right fist wildly. Then the rest of the Gators and their fans gave thanks.
Wuerffel's 16-yard run in the waning seconds of the third quarter all but sealed No.
3-ranked Florida's 52-20 win against archrival and No.
1 Florida State in the Sugar Bowl.
Coupled with Ohio State's last-minute win against No.
2-ranked Arizona State in the Rose Bowl, the Gators (12-1) not only staked their claim to the first national title in their program's 90-year history, but made amends for an embarrassing performance against Nebraska in last year's championship game.
"I just kind of fell in," Wuerffel said of his run that gave UF a 38-20 lead. "I didn't do anything special."
Try telling that to the Seminoles.
Try telling that to the Gators.
"Danny was absolutely sensational," UF coach Steve Spurrier gushed. "I think he's the best quarterback that ever played college football."
Wuerffel completed 18 of 34 passes for 306 yards and three touchdowns to earn the MVP, an award Spurrier had won in a losing effort in the 1966 game.
"Wuerffel's the guy, men," said a gracious Bobby Bowden, whose streak of an NCAA-record 11-straight bowl wins and a 13-0-1 record since a loss in the 1981 Orange bowl was snapped.
"You saw tonight two things," the FSU coach continued. "No.
1, that is why I didn't want to play this team again, and No.
2, you wonder how we beat them the first time."
How they did pull off the 24-21 win on Nov.
30 in Tallahassee was simple. Offensively, the Seminoles ran Warrick Dunn right, left and up the middle, and defensively, they pressured Wuerffel relentlessly. They sacked him six times and hit him on just about every pass play, twice drawing late-hit penalties and the subsequent ire of Spurrier. Spurrier charged the Seminoles and their coaches with "dirty" play for what he deemed were hits intended to knock his quarterback out of the game.
Those were the two areas Spurrier had to address.
And he did, masterfully.
With Dunn, who had enjoyed some of his biggest games at the Gators' expense, including a career-high 185 yards rushing last game, the Gators stacked the line and shadowed him with two defenders, essentially daring FSU quarterback Thad Busby to beat them.
Busby played better than he did a month ago, but he and the offense desperately needed Dunn and a running game. But Dunn, the Baton Rouge native playing in his final game, had 16 yards on his first seven carries and then, hampered by cramps that IVs could not treat, was done early in the third quarter. He finished with 28 yards on nine attempts and scored one touchdown just before halftime that cut the UF lead to 24-17.
"We lost a lot with him, but it wasn't enough to win the ball game," Bowden said.
FSU (11-1) had lived all season with its staunch, stingy defense, spearheaded by defensive ends Reinard Wilson and Peter Boulware.
"We're not the strongest up-front team, but .
. the shotgun gave us a chance and gave Danny a little extra time," Spurrier said.
Wuerffel took advantage of that time, finding his receivers regularly, especially Ike Hilliard, who was barely a factor a month earlier. Hilliard, another Louisiana native, had seven catches for 150 yards and three touchdowns. On one score, Hilliard made the catch, stopped suddenly to fake out two defenders and cut back for the TD.
Still, FSU managed to stay close and trailed only 24-20 after a Scott Bentley field goal early in the third quarter before the much-maligned UF special teams turned the game. Robby Stevenson hit a 69-yard punt that rolled to the 2, and after an FSU punt, Wuerffel threaded a pass to Hilliard for a score.
Wuerffel followed with his scoring run, then tailback Terry Jackson closed the scoring with a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns.
"I want to say what Danny always says," Spurrier said, "we were fortunate and God certainly smiled on the Gators this season."