Last week’s video of a man trapping a gator in a garbage can turned out to be a preview of what was in store for Florida on Saturday. Kentucky beat the No. 10 Gators 20-13 in Lexington, the Wildcats’ first home win over their SEC contemporaries since 1986.
Kentucky and Florida are technically rivals by dint of sharing the same conference, but it’s been an extremely one-sided rivalry until recently. The Gators had beaten the Wildcats 31 straight times from 1987 through 2017; Kentucky snapped the streak in 2018 with a 26-17 victory in Gainesville. Florida won the meetings in 2019 and 2020, but last night, Kentucky accomplished something that hadn’t been done in 35 years.
The Gators led 10-7 at halftime, but Kentucky’s special teams got everyone wound up in the third quarter. Florida kicker Jace Christmann had his field goal blocked by Joshua Paschal, and freshman linebacker Trevin Wallace ran it back 76 yards for a touchdown and a 13-10 UK lead. Because nothing comes easy when you’re trying to beat a historically tough opponent, the Gators blocked the PAT attempt by Wildcats kicker Matt Ruffolo.
Wallace’s touchdown was the play of the game, but what happened in the final minute was crucial to the Wildcats’ win, and cool in its own right. Down by seven, Florida QB Emory Jones orchestrated a drive that ate up over four minutes and advanced all the way to Kentucky’s 5-yard line. A false start pushed the Gators back five yards, and Jones threw it away on third-and-long, but the offense was bailed out by a facemask penalty on defensive lineman Octavious Oxendine. UK’s defense went from a fourth-down situation back to dealing with the Gators for possibly four more plays. The Wildcats accomplished the task and sealed the game with Jacquez Jones’s swat of a pass on fourth-and-8. Few defenses have been so stout.
“That was a tough hill to climb right there, to stop them seven, eight times,” Wildcats head coach Mark Stoops said after the game. “It’s brutally hard. If I’m not mistaken, there was another pre-snap penalty down there that helped us, one or two. Once again, thank you to the fans for affecting the play.”
Stoops isn’t just being nice to the fans; the home-field advantage really did help his team. Florida had 382 total yards of offense to Kentucky’s 224, but the Gators also committed eight false-start penalties in the game, including a couple at the end during that red-zone standoff. As heard on Jones’s pass breakup, the crowd was loud. The fans rewarded themselves for their own effort by storming the field afterward. Later, they burned couches.