He'd pulled off the improbable, and nothing – not even two months of constant criticism – could hold him back. And why should it?
With Saturday's 16-13 win against No. 4 Georgia, Zook became the first coach in Florida history to defeat three consecutive ranked opponents. He capped off one of the most difficult stretches in school history with the biggest win of his two-year tenure in front of 84,411 split fans. So just after being doused by the second jug of Gatorade in as many games, Zook had a message for the Gator Nation.
"I didn't really want to get up on the bench, but I really wanted to thank our fans," Zook said. "I understand what our expectations are here. No one wants to reach those expectations of the fans more than us."
"They think it hurts them. They have no idea."
This moment, on the other hand, didn't hurt at all. Because of the win, the No. 23 Gators now find themselves in an unlikely three-way tie for first place in the SEC East. The situation comes as a result of wins against Arkansas, Louisiana State and Georgia.
"3-0 says 'ha-ha''' Florida offensive lineman Shannon .Snell said. "It says in your face. It says we're not as bad a team as everybody makes us out to be."
And it says the Gators continue to hold the grasp on a continually frustrated Bulldogs program. Florida has now won 13 of the past 14 meetings.
"We own Georgia!" hollered tailback Ran .Carthon, as he waved his school's flag on the field following the win. Although the Gators (6-3, 4-2 SEC) never lost their lead against Georgia, memories of fading fourth quarters against Miami and Arkansas started to return. After falling 13-3 with 12:10 remaining in the game, the Bulldogs sparked a 10-point comeback to tie the game.
That's when Florida quarterback Chris .Leak turned his game into overdrive. Florida got the ball with 3:49 on the clock, putting the true freshman in another critical situation. Yet again, he acted older than his age, heaving three completions for 44 yards in a time-efficient, game-winning drive.
Leach finished the game 13-for-23 with 235 yards and one touchdown. He was sacked once and didn't throw any interceptions.
"He came into the huddle with a grin on his face," center Mike Degory said. "He is so confident and so calm. That made us confident as a result."
The drive set up a 33-yard field goal with 33 second remaining. Kicker Matt .Leach capped off the game with his third make of the game.
Soon after, Leach was hoisted onto the shoulders of his teammates in a colorful, 10-minute celebration.
"He deserves to be on a cloud right now," long snapper Casey .Griffith said.
While it was the offense which held Florida together late in the game, it was the defense which kept them in the lead early on. A 3-3 first to half resulted after both teams struggled to form momentum.
And even though Georgia would win the time-of-possession battle by more than eight minutes, the Gators held the Bulldogs to just one offensive touchdown.
"Both defenses played extremely aggressively," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "In big games like this, it becomes a defensive struggle. Overall, we had our opportunities."
But made obvious by Zook's emotional post-game celebration, it was Florida who has made the most of its own chances. As a result, an otherwise battered season has been reignited. And no one knows it better than the head coach. "When people say you can't do something, you get a little more satisfaction from it," Zook said. "I still think we have a long way to go. But we're still in this." ###