The game was over and the celebrating had started on the field and in the stands when the loudspeakers cranked up for an encore.
For the second time Saturday, with sweat dripping from every crevice, Gator fans belted out “I Won’t Back Down” as if they wanted to be heard in Waldo.
It was fitting. Because the song that has become a part of Gator tradition told the story of a defense that lived Tom Petty’s anthem to the fullest.
You can back them up to whatever gates you want. Fumble the ball all over the field. Knock out another quarterback (for awhile). Lose players to injury.
This defense isn’t going anywhere.
“People don’t want to respect us,” said safety Shawn Davis. “We’re going to make them respect us.”
The Gator defense certainly got Auburn’s attention Saturday. Whether it was holding the Tigers to two first downs (which seems almost unimaginable) in the first half or snagging three interceptions, Florida showed that other gear we were talking about last week.
It’s there. They shifted into fourth when they needed it.
“A lot of people doubted us and said we were overrated,” said safety Donovan Stiner. “I think we just proved that our record speaks for itself.”
Stiner and Davis were two of the heroes in a game full of them.
Stiner had a pick in the end zone, and end zone interceptions are always weighted. Davis made an incredible, a one-handed pick and then returned it like he was Lito Sheppard reincarnated to set up Florida’s second touchdown.
Oh, there were so many heroes.
Lamical Perine with the 88-yard dagger. Kyle Trask shaking off what looked like a serious knee injury and not only returning to the game but catching a huge third-down pass from Lucas Krull that iced the game.
Anyone — ANYONE — who played.
Anyone who cheered.
“It was really loud,” said Auburn quarterback Bo Nix. “We had trouble hearing the clap for the cadence.”
You remember those days of The Swamp when teams left with an “L” and a headache.
The fans supplied the fuel. And the team kept filling its tanks.
“Nothing was given to us,” said Trask, still limping after the game. “This is the most resilient team I’ve been around.”
It had to be. Because Trask still showed signs of being a third-time starter with his pocket awareness that led to three fumbles, one that might have been a touchdown if Auburn’s NFL-ready Derrick Brown hadn’t been tripped up by the 35-yard line.
No biggie, said the defense.
“The one touchdown was on me. My fault,” said Florida coach Dan Mullen, the architect of an amazing 10-game winning streak and a 6-0 start to this season.
He was referring to a fake punt that blew up in Florida’s face and led to Auburn’s only touchdown. Accent on the “only.”
Because no matter what the defense faced, it responded. It responded with Stiner’s interception in the same end zone where Nix’s father Patrick threw the game-winner 25 years ago.
Not this time.
Not this team.
No soup for you, Auburn.
It responded with a 22-yard sack of Nix when the Tigers were threatening to take the lead. It responded with the closing interception by Marco Wilson and 12 stops on 14 Auburn third-down attempts.
Think about this — at the half were you thinking, “I bet Auburn doesn’t score in the second half?”
“Coach always said, we have to put the fire out,” said cornerback CJ Henderson.
They carried extra extinguishers into this game.
“The outsiders can say what they want,” Trask said. “I think this shows a lot of people that this is a real football team.”
It’s a team that now heads on the road for an even bigger game and Mullen acknowledged that, even putting a bit of a governor on the win because he knows what is up next.
But for a night for the players and a week for the sore-throated fans, this was a night to be celebrated with great gusto.
It doesn’t matter whether or not Florida is back.
All that matters is that Florida was back on Saturday.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at email@example.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.