Ahmad Black's 80-yard interception return for touchdown sealed the Gators' 37-24 win over Penn State in the Outback Bowl, earning him the MVP and stopping a promising Nittany Lions' drive with a minute left in the game.
Black was the best player on this team all season, and I'm happy to see his career end on this note. He came to UF as an undersized safety, an add-on to a recruiting class that included high school teammates Chris Rainey, John Brown and Mike and Maurkice Pouncey.
Black said safeties coach Chuck Heater even told him as much during the team's senior tackle ceremony this week, when he joked that the Gators only took Black to get the others.
Four years later, he's the best of the bunch in my book (Maurkice certainly has a claim there too). Black made a laundry list of huge plays in his career, most notably that crazy pick against Oklahoma in the BCS Championship.
He led the team in tackles this year and had two picks Saturday. He returned the first one 49 yards to the 15-yard line in the first quarter, putting UF's offense in a situation where it was a huge challenge to not score. Never fear, they prevailed with a fumble.
Meyer and Black deserved to go out winners, and they both wanted the win for someone else. Meyer gave the game ball to Ian Lockwood, a senior at Navarre High (pictured in orange beanie). He met Lockwood while he was receiving treatment for brain cancer in Gainesville, an illness that cut short his high school football career. Navarre had its best year in school history this season, going 11-2 while using Lockwood for inspiration.
The Gators did the same thing, partly playing this game for Lockwood. Black hugged him and gave him the game ball at a postgame press conference, a scene that had Lockwood choking back tears.
“I asked these guys to do whatever we could to get a game ball to Ian Lockwood," Meyer said. That meant we had to go four quarters as hard as possible and find a way to get that ball and brighten someone’s day.”
This game was very, very sloppy and mostly poorly played, but that's not how I'll remember it. I'll remember watching Black go streaking down the sideline after jumping a drag route. And I'll remember the scene on the field afterward, watching Meyer celebrate with his family (he either wasn't emotional or did a great job hiding it) after I snuck into the background of his postgame interview to get on TV looking like a super creepy stalker.
Sure, I'll also remember all the times Florida played LIKE THIS, but Black at least put a positive spin on the end of the year. Winning the Outback Bowl against a mediocre Penn State team doesn't mean much, especially not for a team that started the year with BCS hopes, but take a step back and look at what this game meant for the three people on the right side of that photo, and suddenly things change.
Meyer also made the point that the win makes life a lot easier for Will Muschamp, as a team coming off a win is much different in the offseason from one that ends with a loss. Now, it's all about Muschamp's staff coming together, and I expect they'll have all that set in the next few days.
What'd you think of the game? Does this make up for any of the sorrow from the rest of the year?