GatorZone.com Senior Writer
TAMPA, Fla. – If they ever make a movie about Urban Meyer’s final game at Florida, they won’t have to make up an ending.
They already have a perfect one – the real one in the Gators’ 37-24 win over Penn State on Saturday in the Outback Bowl.
One second, Penn State was driving down the field and threatening to spoil Meyer’s Florida finale. The next, Ahmad Black was racing 80 yards after an interception to seal Florida’s fifth bowl win in six tries under Meyer.
“That was a great play,’’ said senior center Mike Pouncey, one of Black’s closest friends on the team. “I’m real proud of him and happy for him. He shut all the critics up because all he does is makes plays.’’
Black, named Outback Bowl MVP thanks to two interceptions, is the perfect player to seal Meyer’s win due to their close relationship and the fact he was arguably the Gators’ MVP this season.
“Ahmad Black is one of my closest friends,’’ Meyer said. “I can call him a friend now because he’s not my player. He’s family. He’s also the best safety in college football.’’
Trailing 30-24, Penn State faced a third-and-3 from Florida’s 25. However, Black intercepted Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin’s pass and returned it for a touchdown with 55 seconds left, setting off a major celebration on Florida’s sideline.
“We went up six points before I got the interception and they were driving down the field and I’m thinking: ‘We need a play; we need a play.’ They were running the ball, getting first down after first down.’’
Black arrived at Florida from Lakeland High, where he was high school teammates with Pouncey and redshirt juniors Chris Rainey and Steven Wilks. At the start of his college career, Black didn’t always see eye to eye with his coaches.
By the end, he had developed into one of their favorites. He led the team in tackles this season and produced in the clutch during his career, including a key interception in the 2008 BCS national championship win over Oklahoma.
For an instant on Saturday, it looked like Black may not be around for much of his final game. Trying to make tackle early in the game, teammate Brandon Hicks hit Black from behind and he made a hard hit on a Penn State player.
Black had to leave the game briefly with a towel placed to his bloody lip.
“That’s Ahmad Black,’’ Meyer said. “I knew he wasn’t out [of the game]. He missed one punt formation and we almost got it blocked, so I was really angry with him. I was going to cut him out of the will.’’
That won’t be necessary. Black not only returned, but the made the play of the game on his late interception. Black’s 49-yard interception return in the first quarter led to Florida’s first points.
An emotional Black thanked his coaches and teammates afterward. He also took photos with a few of them with his Outback Bowl MVP Trophy before heading to the team buses.
“I appreciate them for everything,’’ Black said. “Most importantly, I want to thank Coach Meyer for everything, on the field and off the field. Without him, a lot of this wouldn’t be possible.’’
Meyer knows the feeling.
Without Black’s late interception, exiting with a victory Saturday may not have been possible for him.
“Ahmad Black was not the Ahmad Black [he is now] when we got him four years ago,’’ Meyer said. “He has turned into a grown man. I’m very proud of him.’’