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Keith Taylor: Wildcats come close to ending Florida streak, but dealt another heartbreaking loss

By Keith Taylor
Kentucky Today

Kentucky almost ended three decades of frustration against No. 20 Florida Saturday night. Almost doesn’t count and the Gators rallied to defeat the Wildcats 28-27 on a night that began with anticipation and ended in harsh disappointment.

For the third time in the last 31 years, the Wildcats (3-1, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) led going into the fourth quarter, only to come up short. It happened in 1993, a decade later in 2003 and again Saturday night. This time, the Gators scored two touchdowns in the final eight minutes to overcome a 27-14 deficit, the second straight week Florida has come from behind to notch a victory in conference play. The Gators used a “Hail Mary” pass at the buzzer to defeat Tennessee in their conference opener on Sept. 16.

UK quarterback Stephen Johnson walks off the field following a disappointing loss to Florida Saturday night (Tammie Brown photo)

The win over Kentucky extended the Gators’ winning streak to 31 straight games, spanning more than three decades. Although the wide gap between the two teams has been shortened, especially in the Mark Stoops era, Florida reigns supreme in the lopsided series. Kentucky received a taste of what the Volunteers experienced a little more than a week ago in Gainesville.

Although close, the setback was hard to swallow.

“As you can imagine, very heartbreaking loss for us and our team,” Stoops said afterward.

The victim of another heroic comeback by Florida this season, the loss left Stoops nearly speechless, knowing the Wildcats had put themselves in position to possibly end 31 years of misery. Mistakes and blown coverages in two of Florida’s four touchdowns, including the game-clinching touchdown with 43 seconds remaining, stood in the way of getting that elusive win the team has been seeking since a 10-3 triumph over the Gators in 1986.

“The breakdown in communication defensively on two plays are really a sore spot because they stick out and it takes away fringe age feat passion and energy that the team, that our team played with. We played winning football.”

Not only did the Gators’ two wide-open touchdowns hurt the Wildcats, a holding penalty on a desperation drive that cost the the hosts 10 yards during the final minute pushed kicker Austin MacGinnis out of field-goal range. Despite long odds, MacGinnis attempted a 57-yard strike as time expired, but the kick fell short, as the fans in the stands, players and coaches were left wondering what could have been instead of what just transpired.

Much like his coach, Kentucky standout running back Benny Snell blamed the loss on mistakes from start to finish.

“We were the better team,” Snell said. “There’s not a question. … I felt like we were the better team. Whether it was a mistake with (their) guy being open or the (holding penalty), we beat ourselves.”

The Kentucky locker room wasn’t much better. Stoops said his team was “deflated” after the loss and added you could have heard “a pin drop” as he tried to put a positive spin in his team’s effort.

“That one’s going to hurt because of what we have invested,” the Kentucky coach said. “These players have worked to put themselves in position to play like that and sometimes you’re going to come up on the wrong end. That definitely hurts when you invest what we have invested.”

Kentucky quarterback Stephen Johnson, one of the main staples in Kentucky’s offense during the past two seasons, left the field with his head tucked in his jersey, an outward sign of his inward feelings after watching Florida celebrate on Kentucky’s home turf.

“We knew they were going to come to play for all four quarters,” said Johnson who threw for 196 yards and there touchdowns. “It’s a loss and it doesn’t matter how well any does. We lost that game.”

Stoops said the Wildcats will regroup in prepare for a non-conference encounter against Eastern Michigan Saturday and can build on the team’s achievements during the first four encounters.

“I told (the team) that we’re going to win together and we’re going to lose together,” he said.

Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at keith.taylor@kentuckytoday.com.

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One Comment

  1. Michael Schenck says:

    I really believe the better team lost. KY will win someday. I graduated in 1974. I can remember only one time that KY beat Florida.

    It will happen again, hopefully next year in Florida.

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