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GATORS DENY UK DESPITE SPECIAL-TEAMS GAFFES

Date story was published: Sunday, September 29, 2002

When Guy Morriss and his Kentucky football team walked into the locker room at halftime of yesterday's game at No. 7 Florida, they looked like yet another UK team that was about to get swallowed in The Swamp.

But by the time the final horn sounded, a disappointed Morriss and his squad walked out of The Swamp feeling like they let one of the biggest wins in school history slip away.

The Cats, down 19-0 at intermission, staged a furious third-quarter rally in which horrendous special-teams play by Florida helped them take a 28-25 lead.

But the Wildcats' own mistakes eventually caved in their upset bid as Ron Zook's Gators held on for a thrilling 41-34 victory in front of a national television audience.

What would have been UK's first win over a top-10 team since a 24-20 win over Penn State in 1977 turned into just another in a long line of close calls, much like the 38-35 loss to Tennessee at the end of last season.

But Morriss, whose Cats fell to 4-1, said his team wasn't nearly as sharp as it was when it almost knocked off the Vols.

"We just made too many mistakes and kept shooting ourselves in the foot," Morriss said. "We didn't handle prosperity very well. We didn't play nearly as well tonight as we did against Tennessee last year.

"I think (the players) are extremely disappointed that they didn't play better. We didn't come out here to get beat by one or seven, 19 or whatever the spread was. We came out to win."

UK's hopes for an upset officially died when quarterback Jared Lorenzen was tackled at the Kentucky 42-yard line on the last play of the game, but the seeds of disappointment were sewn much earlier.

It started when the Wildcat offense sleepwalked its way through the first half and fell into a 19-point hole. A Lorenzen fumble deep in UK territory set up Florida's first touchdown, and the Cats managed just 116 yards of offense in the first half.

It continued in the second half after the Cats had taken momentum following a Lorenzen-to-Aaron Boone 39-yard TD pass that gave them their first lead at 28-25 with 3:03 left in the third.

Florida reclaimed the lead on Taylor Jacobs' second touchdown catch of the game, a 35-yarder with 18 seconds left in the quarter that made it 32-28 Gators.

But Kentucky, as they have all season, bounced right back and appeared on the verge of driving for another go-ahead touchdown when Florida's Keiwan Ratliff stepped in front of a Lorenzen slant pass intended for Derek Abney and took it 62 yards for a score to make it 39-28 at the 9:25 mark.

Lorenzen, who looked to his left before turning back to his right and firing the ball directly to Ratliff, called the play a misread.

"I picked and chose, I didn't read," Lorenzen said. "And that will kill you. I guess I threw a blind pass, and he read it, picked it off and scored.

"He was six yards inside of the slant anyway. I shouldn't have thrown it. I flat-out just shouldn't have thrown it. It was completely my fault."

Ratliff said he saw the pass coming all the way.

"I read the quarterback, I read the route, and I was real surprised when he threw it because I saw him look away," Ratliff said.

An Abney 49-yard punt return for a touchdown brought UK to within 39-34 with 5:24 remaining, but Ratliff picked off Lorenzen's two-point conversion pass in the end zone and took it all the way back for two points and a 41-34 Gator lead.

Kentucky was set to get the ball back on its own 37 with 2:56 remaining but were pushed back 15 yards after a personal foul penalty. That threat ended when a Lorenzen pass bounced off of Boone at the UK 28 on fourth-and-4.

After settling into their 19-point halftime cushion, the Gators came out of the locker room and acted as if they had never practiced special teams in their lives.

UF punter Sean Morton bobbled a snap and fell on the ball at the Gator 32, setting up a perfect 14-yard fade pass from Lorenzen to Abney to get the Cats on the board and make it 19-7.

Then, following a Grossman-to-Jacobs 4-yard touchdown pass, Abney returned the ensuing kickoff 100 yards to bring the Cats to within 25-14.

Dustin Williams then blocked a Morton punt at the Florida 22, setting up a 1-yard scoring run by Artose Pinner, and suddenly the Wildcats were within 25-21 with 3:21 left in the third.

On the next play from scrimmage, UK safety David Johnson recovered an Earnest Graham fumble at the Florida 39. Lorenzen pump-faked and hit a wide-open Boone down the left sideline for a score.

Zook called the Gators' special teams play "as bad as I've ever seen."

Unfortunately for Morriss and Co., they couldn't overcome their own mistakes. But they won over Zook, whose team knocked off Tennessee 30-13 last week.

"I don't want to say we came out flat because Kentucky is a good football team," he said. "They're a much better team than people think they are."

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