It can be done. Kentucky can beat Florida. The Streak can end at 29 games. We know this because the Widlcats
drew up the right blueprint in 2014 and left it in a crumpled heap down in Gainesville, stained with sweat and blood and singed around the edges with rage. They had it won but left empty-handed.
It took overtime for the Gators to escape the Wildcats on that humid night in the Swamp. In fact, it took three extra periods plus one extra second, a heartbeat of a moment that might have sent the Cats home giddy. Kentucky did it with all three phases of football, so familiar to fans now they’re like the Litany of the Saints: Offense, defense and special teams.
It’s the third of the trio that some people routinely forget until something ugly happens (see: snap, bad and punt, blocked from last week’s debacle). At Florida in ’14, special teams were a thing of beauty, especially in the first half. Thanks to the punting of Landon Foster, five of six Florida drives began inside the Gator 15 – two inside the 10 and one inside the seven-yard line, stifling whatever thoughts of offensive creativity the home team might have entertained.
Kentucky ended only one drive with a score – that coming with triple zeroes on the clock, Austin MacGinnis booting a field goal from 51 yards away to tie the game at three, a half of football that was a defense-lover’s delight.
The second half brought the fireworks, UK quarterback Patrick Towles twice connecting with Florida native Garrett Johnson for touchdowns, each time helping the Wildcats take or re-claim the lead. The teams traded five scoring possessions, Florida easing ahead by a field goal.
Kentucky caught a break when Florida missed a field goal try early in the fourth quarter, giving the Cats the football 56 yards away. They ground it for 11 plays before turning once again to MacGinnis, who slipped one through the uprights to tie the game at 20. Special teams – special, aren’t they?
Not so much for the Gators, who had a chance at victory in regulation but missed a field goal from 52 yards. It was time for free football and this is where the memories of Kentucky fans will smolder for as long as they can recall this game.
The Wildcats scored first on an incredible run by Boom Williams, who took a handoff and bolted right, saw what amounted to the Gator team photo waiting on him and decided, against orders, to try the other side of the field. Williams had been told not to surrender any ground, as overtime periods start on the 25-yard-line. Any time you go backwards, you make it tougher on the field goal kicker, should he get the call.
But instincts told Boom to run where they weren’t, and he did, beating all 11 Gator defenders to the end zone on the opposite side of the field for a 27-20 UK lead. Offense, doing its part, putting Kentucky in a position to win.
Skip ahead to Florida’s possession, third and three at the Kentucky five, the Cats stuffing Kelvin Taylor for a four-yard loss. It was fourth and nine, Gators down to their last play. And they pushed the pre-snap read to the last second – beyond the last second, if you believe the play clock on the TV screen.
But there was no flag, no whistle. So instead of fourth and 14, the Gators ran the play, Jeff Driskell lobbing a TD pass to Demarcus Robinson, who finished the night with 15 catches for 216 yards and two scores.
Mark Stoops’ face was purple. He demanded justice. He got none.
His team went back to work, matching Florida’s field goal and then missing one. The Gators would get a touchdown run in the third and final OT, escaping with a 36-30 victory.
Kentucky didn’t do everything right; that’s impossible in a college football game. But it did enough to win and wasn’t rewarded, which is why the Cats know they might be underdogs Saturday afternoon, but it’s possible to make enough plays to steal one in the Swamp.