GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- There were no words.
So Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops had to borrow some from a movie the team went to see the night before.
“We weren’t perfect, but it was a perfect effort tonight,” Stoops quoted "When the Game Stands Tall."
When Stoops was at the loss for words after watching his team go toe to toe with Florida at The Swamp only to fall in the third overtime 36-30, he didn’t know how to quantify his feelings.
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His eyes were red. He ached for the players in the Kentucky locker room.
They’d been inches away, mere seconds on an expired play clock away from getting a win over the Gators for the first time in 28 years.
So he went with the line from the movie to describe the four hours and eight minutes of drama he’d just witnessed.
“I'll be honest with you, I didn't think for a moment we were gonna lose that,” he said.
But the Cats did when Matt Jones rushed in for a 1-yard touchdown in the third overtime after UK failed to convert a 41-yard field goal by Austin MacGinnis earlier in the OT.
The redshirt freshman, who nailed not one, but two game-tying field goals, forced the overtime 20-20 after his original 46-yarder was called back on a delay of game penalty.
MacGinnis wouldn’t look over at the sideline to find out the distance, he just backed up 5 yards and kicked it again, this time from 51 yards.
“We wouldn’t even be in those overtimes if he didn’t make it,” Stoops said. “I take my hat off to him. He was clutch. He made some very difficult kicks. I’m proud of him.”
MacGinnis wasn’t the only one Stoops and his staff were proud of. There were play-makers all over the field.
“I felt like our players really grew up tonight and really came here to win the game and really believed we were going to win the game – the whole way through,” Stoops said.
They believed it when true freshman Garrett Johnson reeled in a 33-yard pass between two Florida defenders for a touchdown and then another 60-yarder to make it 17-13 Kentucky late in the third quarter.
The wide-out from nearby Winter Haven, Fla., finished with six catches for 154 yards and two touchdowns.
“He was special,” said UK quarterback Patrick Towles, who was pretty special himself completing 24 of 45 passes for 369 yards and three touchdowns to go with three interceptions, his first mistakes of the season.
“I thought he did a great job keeping plays alive, not taking sacks,” UK offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. “I thought he did a really good job running the football when we asked him to do that. I was extremely proud of how he played and it was a big step in his maturation process.”
Florida grabbed the lead again with 25 seconds left in the third quarter on a 9-yard pass to Demarcus Robinson from Jeff Driskel. The wide receiver finished with career highs of 15 catches for 216 yards and two TDs.
UK wasn’t done yet. With 3:52 to go, there was MacGinnis launching his 51-yarder to force the OT.
“I think it would have been a huge changing point in the program, but, I mean, we stuck with them until the third overtime and overtimes can go both ways any given day,” MacGinnis said.
Kentucky (2-1, 0-1 Southeastern Conference) looked like it was going to get its changing point to open the first overtime when true freshman Stanley “Boom” Williams took a shovel pass from Towles and ran it all the way around the field to get the 25-yard touchdown.
On fourth-and-6 from the 9-yard line, Florida looked done.
But Driskel, who finished with 295 yards and three touchdowns, found Robinson in the left corner.
It didn’t matter that Stoops already was 20 yards out on the field arguing that the play clock had run down and the game should be over or that replays showed the same.
Did Stoops think it was over? “I did, but it doesn’t matter.”
Florida struck first in the second overtime with a 20-yard field goal to grab a 30-27 lead, but MacGinnis came back with his own 26-yarder to even it up again.
He missed the next one, saying later it went off his toe.
But the redshirt freshman felt like the Cats sent a message to the rest of the league.
“That we can just hang, that we’re not going to be pushed over like in previous years and that we’re coming to fight,” he said.
And Jones went in for the game winner.
In that last huddle, tight end Tevin Westbrook said the Gators (2-0, 1-0 SEC) knew it was time to end it and keep their streak alive.
“We just wanted to get this victory so we could celebrate,” Westbrook said. “It got real during the first overtime, we needed to score and do what we have to do to win.”
As for that pesky streak, Brown didn’t want to hear any of it.
“Don’t, don’t, don’t even bring it up,” he said. “We had a chance to break it. It’s one of them deals. You can’t accept moral victories. It’s not a game where we’re walking out of here boasting about how we played. Our kids were disappointed.”