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Streak snapped: UK rides unlikely hero to first win against Tennessee since 1984


(Box Score)

 

Over the course of 26 years, more than a dozen UK quarterbacks have had the chance to beat Tennessee and have failed. So maybe it’s no surprise that the quarterback who finally snapped the streak was actually a wide receiver.

 

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“Who would pick out Matt Roark as the guy who broke the streak?” asked UK head coach Joker Phillips.

 

Facing injuries to its top two quarterbacks, UK turned to Roark, a senior wide receiver from Acworth, Ga., who was making his first appearance at the position since his senior year of high school. Roark — leading an offense with just 47 plays in the game plan — lead UK to a 10-7 win over Tennessee to snap the school’s 26-game losing streak to the Volunteers.

 

“I never expected to do anything like that — not the beat Tennessee part, but me playing quarterback and doing it,” Roark said. “It was good. I felt real comfortable out there.”

 

Roark totaled 124 rushing yards on 24 carries but was just 4-6 for 15 yards in the air. All 15 passing yards came on his first competition of the day — a play-action pass to senior tight end Nick Melillo.

 

UK was outgunned by 59 yards in the game, and tallied just 10 first downs. Two interceptions — including one by senior safety Taiedo Smith on Tennessee’s final drive — and a fumble recovery helped make up for UK’s vanilla offense.

 

“By comparison, last week I had six pages of game plan,” said UK offensive coordinator Randy Sanders. “This week I had one, and there was plenty of empty space on that.

 

“I told the offensive guys, this one truly wasn’t going to be about the plays, it wasn’t about schemes, it wasn’t about the adjustments because there weren’t many adjustments we could make. It was going to be about heart, pride and character and mental and physical toughness.”

 

 

For UK’s seniors, the win over Tennessee cemented their legacy as the group that “snapped the streak” instead of the one that ended UK’s five-year bowl run.

 

“This last game is something I will never forget, I think I can say that for all the seniors,” said UK linebacker Ronnie Sneed, who had an interception in the game. “It really overshadows any bad that happened throughout the whole season.”

 

The game will likely not be the last in the careers of senior linebackers Winston Guy and Danny Trevathan — who both are likely to be selected in the NFL draft following the season — but they both said after the win Saturday they couldn’t have picked a better way to end their collegiate careers.

 

“It’s something that’s always going to be remembered,” Guy said. “I’m one of those guys that can say, ‘In 2011, I beat Tennessee.'”

 

“When I first came here, I didn’t really know too much about (the losing streak),” Trevathan said. “I could see the emotion in the older guys, now I can see it in myself. I can see it in the other seniors. I know how important this game is for us.”

 

The win marked the end of a 5-7 season for embattled second-year head coach Phillips. After the game, UK Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart reiterated that Phillips would be UK’s coach next season despite cries from the fan base to make a change.

 

For Phillips, the win had little to do with his job security.

 

“It doesn’t mean much to me to break the streak,” Phillips said. “What means more to me is the joy that those seniors, the memories that those guys will have. That’s what means more to me than anything.”

 

No UK coach was able to say why this team was able to do what 26 teams before it had not, but UK defensive coordinator Rick Minter said it was a special group.

 

“I know where I was in 1984. I know what I’ve been doing since. To know that the Kentucky Wildcats haven’t been successful since that date, that’s a tremendous credit to our kids,” he said. “That’s a lot of football teams that said the day before the game, ‘we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it,’ All of them came up short. This one did not.”

 

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Photos by Mark Boxley.


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