Date story was published: Sunday, November 17, 1985
GAINESVILLE, Fla. - If Jerry Claiborne was ever going to curse, yesterday was the time to let loose with a big blue streak.
After losing to Florida 15-13.
After what might have been.
With less than a minute to play, Kentucky was clinging to a 13-12 lead and hoping for a miracle.
Unbelievably, one appeared.
Florida passed up a chip-shot field goal and attempted a halfback pass from the UK 2-yard line.
The fluttering third-down pass had mistake written all over it. For a fleeting moment, the inscription changed to: Kentucky upset victory courtesy of mind-boggling play-calling.
So ill-advised was the pass that Florida coach Galen Hall disavowed it when confronted by reporters. "Kerwin (Bell, the Gator quarterback) misunderstood me," the coach said.
However, several Gators said Hall apologized to the team in the locker room.
A 2-yard run by tailback Neal Anderson, who gained 134 yards, would have given the Gators a touchdown. If he had not scored, he would have set up a point-blank fieldgoal.
Instead, after taking Bell's handoff and running left, an indecisive Anderson threw the ball up for grabs. He was hit as he threw across the field toward Bell.
The ball floated lazily, some 10 feet off the ground.
"I thought, 'Oh boy, I'm getting this interception,' " said UK's Maurice Douglass, a defensive back.
Only one hitch. David Johnson, another Wildcat defensive back, had a similar thought.
Bell, who was 5 yards deeper in the end zone and several strides closer to the sideline, could only watch as Douglass and Johnson dived forward simultaneously. The ball disappeared into their tangled bodies.
"Maurice looked at me and said, 'Did you catch it?' " Johnson said. "I was going to ask him the same thing."
The ball fell free and the biggest upset victory of Claiborne's four years as Kentucky coach slipped away. Instead, UK dropped to 5-5, a bowl bid became history and a winning season was left hanging in the balance this week against Tennessee.
"It's just a shame we didn't catch the throw-back pass," said Claiborne. "We played hard. All we had to do was make that catch and the game is over."
When the ball fell free, Bell dropped to his knees and bowed until his helmet touched the artificial turf.
Place-kicker Jeff Dawson, who said "my heart dropped out" when Anderson's pass went up, then booted the winning 19-yard field goal with 20 seconds remaining.
UK, which seemed to pull out all stops this day, had one more go at it. On the kickoff, Cornell Burbage faked the cross-field pass to tight end Mark Wheeler (the same play UK botched in the Bowling Green game) and wheeled and threw to Mark Logan at the right sideline.
Logan could only squirm to the 21-yard line. Two incompletions later, the game was over.
Then, it was Steve Mazza's turn to fall to his knees. The senior defensive end slammed his helmet to the turf twice and then joined the Wildcat procession to the locker room.
Four UK players (Bill Ransdell, Chris Chenault, Ken Pietrowiak and Jerry Reese) needed crutches.
Once inside, safe from the heckling of a few Gator fans (one man waved a $20 bill at the team, an obvious reference to the on-going controversy surrounding Kentucky's basketball program), emotions ran free.
"This game was ours," said Ransdell, spitting out the words as he flipped a folding chair to the floor. "If you can't see that . . ."
Ransdell's voice trailed off.
"Beating Florida was one of our goals from the beginning," Logan said. "We felt like we had last year's game taken away from us."
Maybe the Wildcats felt the same way about this game, as Florida improved its record to 8-1-1 overall and a Southeastern Conference best 5-1. (The Gators can't claim the league title because of NCAA probation.)
UK thought it had a two-point conversion after moving ahead 13-12 with 11:39 remaining on the second of Ivy Joe Hunter's two touchdowns. Hunter, a Gainesville native, scored on off-tackle runs of 6 and 4 yards on this, his 19th birthday.
After the 6-yarder put UK up 13-12, the Cats went for two points. Kevin Dooley, subbing for Ransdell, who suffered a knee injury late in the third quarter, rolled right and attempted to hit Logan at the edge of the end zone.
Logan made the catch as a defender drove him out of bounds. It appeared Logan's feet were out of bounds but his upper body - and the ball - were still in the end zone.
The referee closest to the play indicated the conversion was good. While UK players began celebrating, another official overruled, saying Logan was out of bounds.
"We didn't get many calls," Claiborne said with a sad chuckle.
The Cats didn't need many, either.
UK's offense didn't generate much (three first downs in the opening half), but the Wildcats' defense hung tough.
Florida crossed midfield three times in the half, and reached its own 49- yard line with another possession. The Gators could produce only two Dawson field goals and a 6-0 halftime lead.
Dawson's 34-yarder put Florida ahead 3-0 with 5:55 left in the first quarter. His 22-yarder in the second quarter salvaged a Florida drive that UK stonewalled at the 1-yard line. Russell Hairston threw Anderson for a 4-yard loss on third down to prevent the touchdown.
Florida's other chances went awry when Wayne Williams fumbled at his own 49 and Hairston blocked John Francis' 60-yard field-goal attempt on the half's final play.
"We went in with the idea of dominating," Bell said. "We let them stay in the game. When you do that, Kentucky will fight to the end. They don't look very good on film against a lot of people, but when they play us everybody is in the game. You've got to respect them for that."
UK took a 7-6 third-quarter lead on the strength of two plays by Hunter. The plays accounted for 31 of the drive's 44 yards.
The redshirt freshman took a screen pass and played off a Pietrowiak block for 25 yards. Two plays and a defensive holding penalty later, Hunter scored from 6 yards out.
Florida struck back quickly, needing just 79 seconds to regain the lead.
Bell, who completed 17 of 29 passes for 236 yards, hit Ricky Nattiel with a quick flip. Nattiel took it 21 yards to the UK 48 on the drive's first play.
After an Anderson run netted 3 yards, Bell hit Frankie Neal on a 45-yard touchdown bomb. Neal zipped by Douglass on the fly pattern and Hairston was too late with help from the safety position.
"I tried to look him (Hairston) off by looking at the other receiver crossing the field," Bell said. "That froze the free safety and helped Frankie get free."
UK's secondary made amends early in the fourth quarter when Douglass picked off a Bell pass after it was tipped twice by Wildcats. Douglass returned his third interception of the season 43 yards to the Florida 18.
Four runs and a facemask penalty put Kentucky ahead.
"We got the ball back and all we had to do was hold it," said Dooley.
UK got one first down, but a 5-yard sack of Dooley led to a punt with seven minutes remaining.
Florida drove 85 yards with Bell throwing completions of 22 and 18 yards. The 22-yarder went to Ray McDonald, who dived and had to reach back to the sideline to make a catch at the Florida 46.
Neal made a leaping catch at the UK 20 for the 18-yarder.
From there, Florida banged Anderson and fullback John L. Williams relentlessly toward the goal.
Until Anderson's pass.
"I tried to stop throwing when I saw the defensive backs, but I couldn't stop," Anderson said. "We were fortunate they didn't intercept."
Bell said Florida had installed the play for a possible two-point conversion in its game last week against Georgia. The Gators didn't even have a one-point conversion chance in that one, losing 24-3.
"The coaches were doubting it the whole two weeks we had it," Bell said. "Now they probably hate it."
Memories of the play won't be pleasant for Kentucky, either.