Cardiac Gators: Florida scores in final minute to run win streak over Kentucky to 31 straight games
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Florida’s Hail Mary win over Tennessee apparently was just a teaser of how the No. 20 Gators respond to adversity.
Case in point was their latest comeback from the brink against Kentucky, a gut check that put them in a familiar place in the Southeastern Conference.
Freddie Swain caught a 5-yard touchdown pass from backup quarterback Luke Del Rio with 43 seconds remaining to cap Florida’s rally from 13 points down in the fourth quarter to beat Kentucky 28-27 on Saturday night.
The Gators extended their winning streak over the Wildcats to 31 games, the nation’s longest streak in FBS, and took early control of the SEC’s Eastern Division. Coming a week after a last-second, 63-yard touchdown pass beat the Volunteers 26-20 , this rally required even more resolve after trailing most of the night.
Not to mention, even more satisfaction.
“Well, that was fun,” Florida coach Jim McElwain said of his team’s second straight escape. “You could feel it on the sideline that they didn’t have any quit in them.”
Down 27-14 in the fourth quarter, Florida (2-1, 2-0) got within a touchdown on Brandon Powell’s 6-yard TD run with 7:58 left. Del Rio then marched the Gators 58 yards for the winning score to stun a blue-clad sellout crowd of 61,000 hungry to see Kentucky end a generation of frustration against the Gators.
Kentucky’s desperation attempt to win ended when Austin MacGinnis’ 57-yard field goal fell short as time expired. That sparked a wild celebration by Gators players, who swamped the field after their improbable victory.
Winning required replacing Feleipe Franks with Del Rio late in the third quarter with Florida down 24-14. The junior was intercepted by Darius West on his first series and struggled again on his second possession, but didn’t give up.
“I just tried to settle down as best I could, move the ball, which was encouraging,” said Del Rio, who led Florida’s 45-7 rout of Kentucky last year in Gainesville. The pick was just a miscommunication on my part. I knew we could move the ball better.”
Del Rio ended up completing 9 of 14 passes for 74 yards and a victory that might shake up the quarterback spot. He certainly did his best to shake his and Florida’s offensive struggles.
“We will sit down, evaluate it and look at the video,” McElwain said.
Kadarius Toney rushed for a 36-yard TD and Tyrie Cleveland caught a 45-yard TD pass from Franks for a 14-all tie at halftime.
Florida: The Gators played catch-up all night and their perseverance once again paid off in the end thanks to Del Rio, who was the QB in last year’s 45-7 rout of Kentucky in Gainesville. Del Rio threw an interception but had the resolve to lead a fourth-quarter rally and find receivers. They ended up outgaining the Wildcats 395-340, including 186 rushing against a unit that entered the game leading the SEC, yielding just 57 yards per game and ranking third nationally. Malik Davis rushed for 93 yards on 21 carries.
Kentucky: The disappointment continues for the Wildcats. In control most of the game and holding what they thought was a comfortable lead, they couldn’t close the deal again. With the loss went a chance to prove they could win a marquee game and reach a lofty status in the SEC.
Kentucky also wasted a three-touchdown performance from quarterback Stephen Johnson and field goals of 42 and 50 yards from Austin MacGinnis. A late penalty after the Wildcats neared field goal range left MacGinnis with a long attempt that fell in the end zone.
“There’s quite a few plays in games and you never know which ones are going to decide the game,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said. “And there’s probably one of 12 plays in there that changed the game. It’s very disappointing that we didn’t come up with those plays.”
Florida could move up a spot with the road win.
The Wildcats received 11 votes last week but let a great chance to re-enter the Top 25 for the first time since November 2007 slip away.
MacGinnis’ field goals gave him 58 to break Kentucky’s career record of 57 previously by Joey Worley. He missed from 48 and 57 yards.
Florida: Hosts Vanderbilt on Sept. 30.
Kentucky: Hosts Eastern Michigan on Sept. 30.