Updated: Dec 22, 2020
They went out together without winning, but Kyle Trask and Kadarius Tony left their marks on the Gator legacy forever. SEC Photo/Florida Gators
"Bobby Layne never lost a game. Some days, time just ran out on him." – Fellow Hall of Famer Texan and Detroit Lions teammate Doak Walker.
Kyle Trask, also a fine Texas quarterback, was down to his last few ticks. An unfriendly clock left him in the shadow of his own goal, looking ahead at 88 yards of Mercedes Benz Stadium green and the wrong end of a 52-46 score. Honestly, though, Trask felt equal to the task.
“All we had to do was score and kick the extra point and we’d win the game. No one in the world gave us a damn chance,” Trask would say later. Right to the end he was confident and scrappy. He and his teammates gave one of Nick Saban's best teams all it wanted -- just not quite enough.
How Trask got there in the first place as a 17-1/2 point underdog against the nation’s No. 1 team, is one story. How he and his Gator team had to overcome semi-oblivion after being stung by a three-man Crimson Tide wrecking crew of superstar firepower yet another.
To quote that famous sports philosopher Yogi Berra, it wasn't over until it was over. As far-fetched as it seemed, the mild-mannered 6-5, 225-pound senior quarterback was getting his “damn chance” in the final two minutes of the Game of Throws, having been all but written off after the onslaught of Alabama's Najee Harris, Donta Smith and Mac Jones.
Out of a night of mass chaos seemingly filled with self-inflicted foot wounds and a plague of defensive dysfunctionality, the Florida Gators faltered for the first two quarters, 35-17, but dug down deep in the second half to find strength, hope and dignity against the best college football team on the planet.
It was going to be his 41st pass of this 98-point SEC Championship night but he was smacked down at his own 7-yard line by blitzing linebacker Christian Harris, who was a last-minute, game-time decision add-on. The full frontal smackdown appeared to stun Trask momentarily and he struggled to get up and gather himself in time to re-launch. He lay there, dejected, face-first in the artificial turf, then kneeling? moisture welling up in his eyes.
They had to knock him out to stop him. It was a TKO. He ended his heroic career there on the Mercedes Benz floor, devastated and exhausted from having spent every cent in his emotional bank. That is how I want to always remember Kyle Trask: Taking the other guy's best shot and getting up off the canvas to throw one more punch. A tribute to grit, resilence and perserverance.
“It hurt,” Trask said of his mental state at game’s end. “We put so much in this game — worked so hard. We were really clicking on offense. We were rolling pretty good. We just ran out of time.” He said it like he expected to click right on down the field to the end zone, but an untimely and perhaps wasted time out by his coach gave him a short straw, and a short clock with not enough clicks or ticks remaining.
"I think if Kyle would have had a whole minute, we would have won," lamented his father Michael.
It would have been the dream-like ending for the Accidental Superstar whose emergence as a contender for college football’s ultimate trophy, the Heisman, was surprising, but nothing short of spectacular. He still has a longshot chance at the Heisman should votes be divied up among Alabama's Triumvirate, but the odds have not been in his favorite since he started playing football.
Once he finally got on the field as a starter 21 games ago and found his groove, Kyle Trask became the missing cog in Dan Mullen’s offense that elevated the Gators into playoff contention. He blistered Florida’s record books with new standards in passing yardage and touchdowns. He also set new standards in loyalty and devotion to his teammates and school when he could have cut and run to the transfer portal.
Surely fate would have to take mercy on them after Shoe Gate and hiccup loss to LSU. Fate owed them one, but Fate couldn’t afford the miracles needed to beat Ala-Damn-Bama tonight.
"I think the whole team left it out on the field tonight," said Michael Trask. Indeed they did. Three in particular that should always be remembered for their superb effort and valued leadership were Trask, Kyle Pitts and Kadarius Toney. Alabama had its offensive Triumvirate. That will be Florida's.
“My time at Florida has been unreal and special,” Trask said in his post-game presser. “I've grown so much mentally and physically.”
I don’t care if it sounds like celebrating a moral victory and embracing participation trophies or not, what I saw was a team on the brink of self-implosion that went searching for a piece of its soul and found it. Dan Mullen saw it, too. “It showed the character that our guys have,” said the Florida coach. “They've shown that this entire season, for everything that we've been through.”
I agree with Mullen. Maybe it’s the holiday spirit, maybe it’s the gratitude and appreciation we feel for what these young men endured during a pandemic just to complete the season – losing three games by only a few seconds and few points – but a lot of it is the generosity of spirit inspired by the joy and commitment of Kyle Trask.
For me, after a night of sorting out all the madness and measuring all the mistakes against magnificence, I’m not interested in joining the campaign to fire the entire defense, or chastising the play-caller and second-guessing the keeper of time outs, or whining about the lack of discipline in lining up. I plan to celebrate the progress of the journey and focus on the promise of tomorrow.
We will never come this way again. Kyle Pitts, the wunderkind tight end, has already announced he is opting out for the draft. And there may be others before the Jan. 6 in Dallas date against Oklahoma for Florida’s first Cotton Bowl. Right there in Texas, where the great Doak Walker, my late friend, won the 1948 Heisman Trophy while chewing up huge rushing yardage for SMU at same time Bobby Layne was first battling the clocks as quarterback for the Texas Longhorns. As Doak said, sometimes -- like Kyle Trask -- the clock was cruel to Bobby as well.
After Saturday, around the University of Florida, we will begin measuring progress by calendars, not clocks.
The Gators will face No. 6 Oklahoma in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic, which is scheduled for Dec. 30. Kickoff at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, is set for 8 p.m. ET, with ESPN televising the game.
This will be Florida’s first trip to the Cotton Bowl Classic and just the third bowl game played by the Gators in the state of Texas. UF last went bowling in the Lone Star State in 1982 when they participated in the Bluebonnet Bowl against Arkansas. The Gators faced Texas A&M in the 1977 Sun Bowl.
The Gators (8-3, 8-2 SEC) will face Oklahoma (8-2, 6-2) for the second time in school history. The only other meeting between the two was in the BCS National Championship in the 2008 season, when the Gators downed the Sooners, 24-14, in Miami.