Florida's men's track team was the last group of Gators left competing in the 2012-13 academic year, and by the middle of the afternoon on Saturday in Eugene, Oregon, it looked as if they would be sending the season out with a whimper.
Instead, thanks to a superb rally by Florida's men's relay teams, the Gators won their second straight national championship.
Florida entered Saturday with 15 points, good only for 11th place, and 17 points behind co-leaders USC and Texas. And NCAA indoor long jump champion Marquis Dendy's misfire in the men's triple jump — a foul on his third attempt left him on the outside of the quintet of finalists in the first flight of competitors, and he finished in 12th, after finishing fourth in the event in the NCAA Indoor Championships — left Florida in dire straits with only a few more competitors to go.
But Omar Craddock picked up Dendy in that event, winning it by more than a foot with a 16.92-meter jump, and putting up 10 points for the Gators. Suddenly, if things broke right, there was maybe just a hint of a chance for another title.
And then, as Florida tore up the track, things broke very right.
First, the men's 4x100 meters relay team took first in their event by a hundreth of a second, with the quartet of Antwan Wright, Hugh Graham, Jr., Leonardo Seymore, and Dedric Dukes (38.53 seconds) inching out Alabama (38.54 seconds). Then Eddie Lovett took second in the 110 meter hurdles, finishing in 13.32 seconds and beating Clemson's Spencer Adams by .02 seconds.
Finally, in the final men's event of the day, Florida blitzed a 3:01.34 in the 4x400 meters relay, more than a second and a half better than second-place Arkansas, while overall leader Texas A&M saw its team drop the baton and finish last. Improbably, after scoring 38 points in their four Saturday events, Florida clinched at least tie for the national title, pending a judges' decision on A&M's fate.
The Aggies escaped disqualification, and thus snared a share of Florida's space on top of the podium at 53 points. Though the title is A&M's first since joining the SEC, this day was Florida's, as the Gators claimed their fifth national title in men's track since 2010, and their second straight national championship in outdoor track. A&M needed only to take seventh in the 4x400 to ensure an outright national title, as no other team was within striking distance of the Aggies, but learned again what SEC teams have known about Florida for a long, long time: Give the Gators a chance, and you're probably going to regret it.
Florida's men's track team previously won three straight NCAA indoor titles from 2010 to 2012, and swept the indoor and outdoor titles in 2012; Mike Holloway has been at the helm for all five of those national titles. Florida's national title is its second of 2012-13, joining its first NCAA gymnastics championship, which came in similar fashion, and its 13th since 2006. The Gators have won 31 national championships overall, and have won 22 of them under athletic director Jeremy Foley, who rose to the position in March 1992.
And with the end of the 2013 NCAA Outdoor Championships, the 2012-13 Florida athletics season comes to its close. It does so with the orange sun in that blue sky shining off more Gators gold. Feels right, doesn't it?