GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – About 30 minutes after the game ended, Bruce Black stood in Section 4 of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium waiting on his son.
He watched patiently as Gators senior safety Ahmad Black, after making three tackles and recovering a fumble in his final home game, signed autographs and took pictures with fans lined up in a corner of the stands near where the Gators enter the field.
Wearing an orange Gators sweatshirt with No. 35 embroiled on it, Bruce Black didn’t mind the wait as the stadium began to empty following Florida’s 48-10 win over Appalachian State. This was Bruce’s final home game at the Swamp in some ways, too.
“I always tell him to make sure you sign autographs for the kids and take pictures because that’s something they’ll always remember,’’ Bruce said. “He’s made me real proud these last four years, that’s for sure. It’s been a lot of fun.’’
About a half-hour earlier inside the Gators’ locker room, head coach Urban Meyer told the group of 23 seniors how much he appreciated what they did for the program. He also talked about Saturday’s win and the importance of coming back to work on Sunday focused on next week’s regular-season finale at Florida State.
However, more than anything else on Senior Day, Meyer stressed to the players to enjoy Saturday night with their families and to savor a victory in their final home game the way Bruce Black and Ahmad planned to.
“That’s a chapter of their life that is now closed, getting up and driving to Gainesville, Florida, and tailgating and watching your kid play in the Swamp,’’ Meyer said. “It’s a pretty tough deal.’’
It would have been much tougher without a victory Saturday, but that was never in danger. Florida snapped a three-game home losing streak – its longest in a single season since 1986 – with a dominant performance against FCS powerhouse Appalachian State.
The Gators racked up a season-high 547 yards and scored on four of their first five possessions to erase any chance at the Mountaineers spoiling UF’s first win at home since Sept. 25 against Kentucky. The win did more than just send the seniors off on a positive note – it gave the Gators a much-needed shot of confidence after their 36-14 loss to South Carolina for the SEC East title seven days earlier.
“I think everyone associated with our program needed that one,’’ Meyer said.
Florida took control on its opening drive on Chris Rainey’s 16-yard touchdown run. Trey Burton added a three-yard run on the Gators’ next possession and the rout was on. Jordan Reed’s 1-yard touchdown run at the end of the first quarter gave Florida a 21-0 lead.
Florida ended the opening quarter with 223 total yards, just three fewer than they had the entire game against South Carolina.
“I told Coach Meyer before the game that we came in to play Florida at a really bad time,’’ Appalachian State coach Jerry Moore said. “He just grinned. They were very prepared.’’
You knew it was the Gators’ day in when Reed threw a touchdown pass to starting quarterback John Brantley in the second quarter, a five-yard scoring throw that gave the Gators a 28-0 lead. It was Brantley’s first career touchdown reception – a feat not even Tim Tebow accomplished in Gainesville.
But this day belonged to the seniors.
Prior to the game, Black and fellow Lakeland High product Mike Pouncey shed tears as they ran from the tunnel and onto the field for pregame introductions. Meyer waited with a hug for all the seniors.
Pouncey was the last to come out. He was so emotional that he pulled on his helmet so the cameras wouldn’t capture his tears.
“These four years went by fast,’’ Pouncey said. “More than any other win, this one meant the most to me. “I’ll miss the Gator Walks. I’ll miss running out in front of those fans. I feel like I made the best decision of my life in coming to Florida.’’
Black shared those same sentiments as Pouncey. But for him, the journey was a little different.
When Black arrived at Florida in the summer of 2007, he expected to come in and make an impact right away. That didn’t happen as easily as he had hoped, and there were a lot of bumpy spots early in his career.
“Trying to get a rep at practice was like pulling teeth,’’ he said. “I was told to go get Gatorade for the entire position group.’’
But all of that was forgotten on Saturday as he signed those autographs and took those pictures with his dad waiting nearby. Black was leaving the Swamp a winner and as a “great Gator’’ in Meyer’s words.
“To think about all the things we’ve been through, all the things I’ve been through here, it’s an honor,’’ Black said.
The Gators will head to Tallahassee next week seeking a seventh consecutive win over the Seminoles. They’ll also try to finish what has been a turbulent regular season with another win heading into bowl season.
Meyer doesn’t want to think where the Gators might be if not for this year’s class of seniors.
“The disintegration of a senior class is what really wrecks a team,’’ Meyer said. “This team is not wrecked. I’m very grateful for our senior class, the leadership they have provided especially through some ups and downs.
“They are good, solid Gators.’’