Cooper finishes with a bang


Published: Friday, January 1, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 2, 2010 at 1:52 a.m.

NEW ORLEANS — Riley Cooper said earlier in the week Friday's Sugar Bowl was a major audition for the NFL.

Well, it didn't take him long to make quite the impression.

Usually senior quarterback Tim Tebow's primary option in the passing game, Cooper had yet to haul in a catch through the first 11 minutes of the game. He was open at times, but Tebow failed to see him.

Once Tebow did spot his roommate, it was lights out for Cincinnati's struggling defense.

With barely three minutes remaining in the first and Cincinnati reveling in its first score of the game, the Tebow-to-Cooper connection soon gashed the hopes of any sort of Bearcats comeback when Tebow hit Cooper on an 80-yard pass off a play-action fake to give the Gators a commanding 30-3 lead.

As soon as the ball touched Cooper's hands there was no catching him.

"I ain't a 4.5 (runner in the 40-yard dash)," Cooper said. "Well see how it goes (at the NFL Combine), but I ain't a 4.5."

Florida's senior wide receiver finished his Gator career with seven catches for 181 yards and a touchdown. He did it with long plays and short plays. He blocked like a bull and yapped his mouth off, as usual, at Cincinnati's defenders.

He showed off his speed plenty of times and at one point during the third quarter Tebow found him on three consecutive plays for 6, 17 and 44 yards. It was that 44-yarder that ended at the 5-yard line that received the loudest ovation from Gator fans.

Tebow's pass was a tad under-thrown, so to make up for it, Cooper reached over his defender to haul in the catch. He then wrestled around a bit to insure he kept control of the ball.

In his mind, that play ensured that his hands shouldn't be a problem any longer.

"That's never been an issue," Cooper said. "You're going to have some drops now and then, but you settle for seven (catches), 180 (yards)."

Senior receiver David Nelson's face lit up when Cooper's name came up. Knowing the difficulties Cooper's dealt with on and off the field, Nelson was like a proud father when gushing over Cooper's night.

"He's gone through so many different things. I'm so proud of him," Nelson said. "For him to come out here today and end his career the way he did, I can't say enough about the character he is and the type of person he is. He came out here today and busted his tail. ... He made plays today that normal players don't make."

Looking back at his performance, Cooper could only smile when talking about a chance at the NFL, and he said goodbye to Gator Nation by leaving everything he had inside the Superdome.

"I wanted to go out on top and do the best I could and that's what I did," he said. "I'll have no regrets for the rest of my life."

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