Yes, the University of Kentucky has a football team. And their football program almost rewrote history when the Wildcats, who haven’t won an SEC Conference game in the last two years lost to the Gators in triple overtime Saturday night. Kentucky has not beaten Florida in 27 years. Most significantly, the last time Kentucky won a football game in Gainesville was in 1979.
Florida’s victory did not come easy though. Overtime started when Kentucky running back Stanley Boom Williams recognized a broken play, turned around, ran the other way, and scampered 25 yards for a touchdown on the first play of the first overtime. The Gators responded with a touchdown of their own but the score came on an extremely controversial non-call from the officials. Replays made it clear that the play clock had reached zero and expired before the snap. The play, which resulted in the touchdown, came on 4th down. A correct call by the officials would have ended the game with Kentucky in the lead.
The Gators began the 2nd overtime with the ball but failed to score a touchdown. A late throw by quarterback Jeff Driskel to wide receiver Demarcus Robinson was deflected by Kentucky’s defense and forced the Gators to settle for a field goal. A false start on Kentucky’s Jordan Swindle put the wildcats in a 3rd and 15 situation. However, a face mask penalty on the ensuing play by Florida’s Darious Cummings gave the Kentucky offense new life. The fresh set of downs didn’t benefit the Wildcats, however, as Florida’s stout defense held up and Kentucky matched field goals to make the score 30-30 at the end of the 2nd overtime.
Triple overtime saw the much improved Kentucky Wildcats trying to keep their momentum going. On first down, only inches kept quarterback Patrick Towles, the Ft. Thomas, Ky, Highlands High School native from getting intercepted for the fourth time on a fourth tipped pass. Towles scrambled on second down for a one yard gain but on 3rd down, receiver Dorian Baker, dropped a contested pass in the end zone. Kentucky’s kicker, Austin MacGinnis, who had been lights out throughout the game including a successful 51-yard field goal to tie the game with 5:10 left in regulation, missed the 41-yard field goal that would have put Kentucky ahead. A heavy dose of Florida running back Matt Jones sealed the game for the Gators as he rushed into the end zone for the overtime victory.
Despite neither team being ranked, the close defeat provides hope for Big Blue Nation. Kentucky’s defense held Florida’s offense to 3 points in the entire first half. Kentucky’s 10-6 lead in the 2nd half was the first time the Wildcats have led the Gators after halftime since 2003.
The Wildcats are a young and dynamic team. Towles, a redshirt sophomore (which means he still has 3 years of eligibility left after this year), threw for 369 yards and 3 TD’s. His 3 interceptions are a red-mark on his stat sheet but each interception actually was the result of a tipped [read: dropped; catchable] pass by one of his receivers. Kentucky fans should be worried if the interceptions were the result of bad decision making by the young gun slinger but they weren’t.
Towles looked confident and intelligent as he read the defense and took advantage of mismatches against his tall and talented receivers. Blake Bone, the 6-foot-5-inch, 198 pound receiver had some drops but is a true freshman with miles of room to grow. Kentucky’s defense did give up 216 yards receiving to Robinson but no one else on the Florida offense had more than 30 yards receiving. Kentucky’s offense on the other hand mixed up Towles 24 completions between seven receivers. Garrett Johnson had six receptions for 154 yards and Demarco Robinson followed with five receptions for 63 yards. Four other Kentucky receivers had more than 30 reception yards. That’s what you call a balanced passing attack.
And despite the Kentucky running game only averaging 2.5 yards a carry, the Wildcats didn’t abandon the run in the fourth quarter or overtime. The commitment to keeping the ball on the ground on first and second downs at the end of the game kept the passing lanes open on those critical downs where Towles’ arm was needed. And again, balance was the name of the game when it came to keeping fresh legs on the field. The rushing attack was led by junior Braylon Heard (12 attempts, 39 yards) and sophomore Jojo Kemp (8 attempts, 23 yards) but five different players, including Towles (9 attempts, 22 yards), carried the ball. With a 45:33 pass to run ratio in a college football game, Kentucky’s new born offense is as two-headed as they come.
The Wildcats of the 2-10 record last year are no more. Towles led his team into the Swamp in Gainesville, battled the reptiles without fear, and lost a victory on a controversial call in overtime. After the game, SEC analysts deemed the quarterback “Patty Ice” in reference to Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, whose nickname “Matty Ice” was common during his days at Boston College. Stop and think about that. A UK quarterback has been garnered with the same nickname as one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL.
The history books still have another year on the shelf but Kentucky fans have something to cheer for as they wait for basketball season to begin. Why? Because Kentucky has a football team.
Cover photo by Jason Marcum. Retrieved from kysportsconnection.com
Patrick Towles photo retrieved from Kentucky.com
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