Gators Fourth-Quarter Rally Stuns Cats 28-27 … again

September 23, 2017

Gators Fourth-Quarter Rally Stuns Cats 28-27 … again

Gators have beaten the Wildcats 30 straight times, dating to 1986.

Chris Harry - @GatorsChris

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Florida backup quarterback Luke Del Rio hit wide receiver Freddie Swain for a 5-yard touchdown with 43 seconds left that erased a double-digit fourth-quarter deficit and gave the No. 20 Gators a 28-27 victory that stunned upset-minded Kentucky and its Kroger Field faithful Saturday night and and pushed UF’s winning streak in the series to an astounding 31 straight games.

UK, which opened a 27-14 lead with just under 12 minutes to go, had a chance to win the game at the gun, but Austin McGinnis’ desperation field-goal attempt from 57 yards was short as time expired.

Del Rio, the fourth-year junior, was summoned in the second half to replace redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks, who was ineffective in his first road start. Del Rio, with 6:31 remaining, took over at UF 42 and marched the Gators (2-1, 2-0) 58 yards in 13 plays, converting two third downs and two fourth downs along the way. Facing a third-and-1 at the UK 5, Del Rio took the snap from center and lofted a soft pass to Swain, all alone in the right flat of the end zone.

On Kentucky’s ensuing series, quarterback Stephen Johnson started his unit at his own 25, but completed an 11-yard pass on first down, plus got 15 bonus yards on a roughing-the-quarterback penalty against UF defensive end Jabari Zuniga that put the ball at the Florida 49. After three straight incompletions and facing a fourth-and-10, Johnson hit Charles Walker for a 14-yard completion to the UF 35 — right on the cusp of field-goal range for McGinnis, who earlier in the quarter hit a 50-yarder. On the next play, though, running back Benny Snell Jr. went up the middle for 10 yards to the UF 25, but the play was called back for 10-yard offensive holding penalty that pushed the Wildcats back to the UF 45.

A six-yard completion gave McGinnis a chance — for a career-long 57-yarder — but his try was well short.

Kentucky (3-1, 1-1), which was looking to go 4-0 for the first time since 2008, has not defeated Florida since a 10-3 victory here on Nov. 17, 1986. The run of 31 straight is the fourth-longest such streak in college football history.

Del Rio finished nine of 14 for 74 yards, with the one touchdown and an interception, compared to Franks who went 7-for-12 for 85 yards, one touchdown and no picks. The Gators got huge contributions from a pair of true freshmen in tailback Malik Davis, who rushed 21 times for 93 yards while all-purpose man Kadarius Toney had a 36-yard touchdown run, a 50-yard pass that led a fourth-quarter TD and caught four passes for 35 yards.

Johnson, meanwhile, gave the UF defense fits for about three quarters, completing 17 of 25 passes for 195 yards and three touchdowns without a turnover. His third TD throw came on UK’s first possession after halftime broke a 14-all time amd McGinnis two second-half field goals — a 45-yarder with 5:54 left in the third, then the 50-yarder at the 11:33 mark of the fourth — gave the Cats their 27-14 cushion.

Then UF’s offense, held to 245 yards through the game first 48-plus minutes, cranked 150 the rest of the way.

A quick-strike seven-play, 80-yard march, keyed when Toney hit Tyrie Cleveland on an end-around pass for 50 yards, was finished by a 6-yard touchdown run by Brandon Powell out of the “wildcat” formation. That made the score 27-21 with 7:58 to play.

The Florida defense responded by forcing a Kentucky three-and-out that set up Del Rio for the game-winning march, a methodical mix of eight runs and five passes, including a 10-yard completion from Del Rio to running back Mark Thompson and fourth-and-1 run of of seven yards by Davis that gave the Gators a first down at the UK 14.

Three plays later, no one covered Swain in the end zone.

Johnson hit tight C.J. Conrad for a 23-yard touchdown strike on the Wildcats’ first possesion of the third period and after a second straight three-and-out by the UF offense, UK drove 41 yards for a 42-yard McGinnis field goal and two-possession advantage. After that second three-and-out, UF coach Jim McElwain benched Franks in favor of fourth-year junior Luke Del Rio, who threw for 320 yards and four TDs in a win over Kentucky at Gainesville last year.

Del Rio’s third pass, however, was intercepted and the Cats used the turnover and the short field to work for McGinnis’ 50-yarder and the 13-point lead.

The score was tied at 14-all at the time after the Kentucky defense neglected to cover wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland on a fourth-and-3 and Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks made the Wildcats pay. Franks fired a 45-yard touchdown to all-by-himself Cleveland after Florida coach Jim McElwain rolled the dice on a fourth-down gamble that paid off late in the second period. The play came out of a timeout and UK’s defense sent no one out to shadow Cleveland, who was lined up wide to the right. Cleveland caught the ball and outraced a couple defenders to the end zone with 3:16 left in the half.

Kentucky had a chance to take the lead just before intermission, thanks to a couple personal fouls against the UF defense, including a targeting call on lineback Vosean Joseph that, by rule, resulted in his ejection. But back-to-back sacks by UF defensive end Cece Jefferson forced the Wildcats to settle for a 45-yard field-goal attempt from Austin McGinnis. The kick hit the right upright and bounced away with 43 seconds to play in the half.

Johnson’s second touchdown pass of the game, a 9-yarder to wide receiver Garrett Johnson, put the Wildcats up 14-7 on the previous possession. The Johnson-to-Johnson hook came after the Gators, forced to punt from their own 3, got a 54-yard return by Charles Walker to the UF 10. Two plays later, Johnson dropped a perfectly thrown fade over UF defensive back Duke Dawson in the right corner of the end zone with 7:24 to play in the first half.

UK’s go-ahead drive came two possessions after Toney took a snap from center and dashed through the Kentucky defense for a 36-yard touchdown. Toney, the true freshman from Eight Mile, Ala., lined up in the “wildcat” formation against the Wildcats on UF’s third possession of the game — and just the second play of the second quarter. Toney went right, slipped through the first line of defense, cut outside and scored untouched for his first career TD.

The play marked UF’s first rushing touchdown since the Georgia game last season, a run of nine games.

Kentucky took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter when Johnson hit wideout Blake Bone for a 14-yard touchdown pass. The Wildcats went 75 yards in eight plays on their second possession of the game, with running back Bennie Snell breaking off a pair of 12-yard runs to key the drive. On the scoring play, UF linebacker Vosean Joseph bit on a pump fake inside, allowing Bone to break free toward the back of the end zone. The throw was perfect for the early lead at the 5:06 mark.

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