Kentucky’s Fourth-Quarter Rally Falls Short
LEXINGTON, Ky. – Despite a sparkling defensive effort in which the Kentucky football team held Florida scoreless in the second half, a fourth-quarter rally fell short as Florida prevailed 14-9 on Saturday night in a front of a sold-out Commonwealth Stadium.
Trailing 14-3 going into the fourth quarter, the Wildcats made it a one-score game behind two Austin MacGinnis field goals and had the ball twice over the final five minutes in an attempt to score the go-ahead touchdown. Kentucky’s final drive of the night began on its own 20-yard line and was dissipated by a Quincy Wilson interception on fourth-and-27 to lift the Gators to the win.
"We just needed to play a good, clean football game and play to our capabilities the best we can," UK head coach Mark Stoops said. "We didn't do that tonight, and give Florida a lot of credit because they had a lot to do with that."
With the loss, Kentucky drops to 2-1 on the year (1-1 in the Southeastern Conference), while Florida improves to 3-0. UK returns to action on Sept. 26 when it plays host to Missouri at 7:30 p.m. on the SEC Network.
"We had great support," Stoops said. "I thank the fans again. It was a great environment leading up to the game. The Cat Walk and seeing the stadium filled was incredible, and we need to play better to get them into it. That would have been a great start. It didn't happen."
Kentucky’s defense stymied the Gator attack for the entire second half. Five Wildcats registered six or more tackles on the night, led by Khalid Henderson’s nine stops.
UK posted three tackles for a loss and J.D. Harmon picked off a pass in the end zone to halt a Florida drive in the middle of the third quarter that would have pushed UF’s lead to three scores. The interception sparked a momentum change in the game as UK would go on to put together back-to-back scoring drives.
"I was pleased with the defensive effort," Stoops said. "I felt like the guys played hard. They prepared the right way. It's the urgency of the communication a lot on both sides of the ball, and that's what I talk about in practice a lot -- just preparing yourself to play well."
UK quarterback Patrick Towles was 8 of 24 on the night with 126 yards and two interceptions. Running back Stanley “Boom” Williams rushed 16 times for 80 yards – snapping his three-game 100-yard rushing streak. Dorian Baker led the receivers with four hauls for 38 yards, including a big fourth-down catch late in the game.
Florida’s Will Grier threw for 125 yards and rushed for a team-high 61 yards that included a 1-yard touchdown scamper in the opening quarter.
Following Harmon’s interception in the third quarter, Towles’ 33-yard scramble highlighted a 75-yard drive by the Wildcats to inch closer at 14-6 with 14:50 in the fourth. MacGinnis connected on a 22-yard field goal for the Wildcats to make it a one-possession game.
After the UK defense forced a three-and-out, MacGinnis made it a five-point contest with 10:57 to go with a 45-yard field goal. Towles found Jeff Badet for a 45-yard strike down the left sideline to push the Wildcats into field-goal range as the drive's highlight.
Following UK’s third field goal of the game, Florida managed one first down before being forced to punt with 8:34 remaining. Faced with a third-and-10 from its own 22, Towles found Baker open on the right sideline to keep the drive alive. Williams followed with a 14-yard rush, but the drive stalled at UK’s 48. Punter Landon Foster pinned the Gators inside the 20 with 6:10 to go.
The Gators picked up two first downs and killed 3:44 of clock before punting back to the Wildcats, which began the final drive at their own 20. Towles and Baker hooked up for a 20-yard gain on fourth-and-3 at the Kentucky 27 to keep the drive alive. Florida sacked Towles for a loss of 12 on third-and-10 from the UK 47 and then the Wildcats committed a false start. Towels’ deep ball down the left side line intended for Ryan Timmons was picked off by Wilson to preserve the Gators’ victory.
"We need to go back to work and become a better football team, play cleaner, do the little things that are necessary to win games like that," Stoops said. "I'm very proud of our team's effort. They played hard; we're just not clean enough."
Florida opened the game’s scoring with a 1-yard run by Grier on fourth down to go ahead 7-0. The Gators benefited from a 53-yard interception return by Vernon Hargreaves to start the drive at UK’s 19-yard line. Kentucky answered with a 14-play, 64-yard drive that resulted in a MacGinnis 29-yard field goal to make the score 7-3.
The Gators put together an 11-play, 67-yard drive, which ended in a 34-yard field goal attempt by Austin Hardin that was subsequently blocked by UK’s CJ Johnson to preserve the 7-3 score.
The visitors capped the half by marching 57 yards for a three-yard plunge by running back Kelvin Taylor to push UF’s lead to 14-3 with 14 seconds remaining.