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UK CLIMBS OUT OF A 28-3 HOLE

Date story was published: Sunday, November 17, 1991

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Who were these guys? Where did they come from?

The first 18 minutes, now that was Kentucky, its defense being ripped for four touchdowns on Florida's first four possessions, its offense able to move toward but never quite reach the end zone. Now that was Kentucky. But after that, who were these guys?

Guys like Donald Robinson, who made two interceptions; and Bill Campbell, who picked off a third; and Willie Cannon, who blocked a punt and recovered a fumble; and Pookie Jones, who threw for 216 yards and ran for 81 more; and Neal Clark, who caught eight passes for 101 yards.

Guys who, after falling behind 28-3 early in the second quarter -- sparking visions of, say, an 84-12 rout -- came back and nearly knocked the wind right out of those Sugar Bowl-bound Gators before ultimately falling 35-26 yesterday in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

What's that? You say that was Kentucky?

"We made some progress today," said UK Coach Bill Curry, his stern countenance a sign he would have rather had the victory. "But we didn't come here to make progress, we came here to win and we didn't get that done."

True, Kentucky fell to 3-7 overall and 0-6 in the Southeastern Conference. Fifth-ranked Florida improved to 9-1 overall and finished conference play 7-0, the league's first unbeaten and untied entry since Auburn in 1983.

But until yesterday, the great Gators had been untested. They had gobbled up SEC foes by an average margin of 24 points. No member had come closer than 16. Facing the league's last-place team, they were a prohibitive 35-point favorite.

Even that appeared low when quarterback Shane Matthews, the Gators' Heisman Trophy candidate, threw for 228 yards and three touchdowns in the first quarter alone. Two scores came on spectacular catches by Gator wide receiver Tre Everett, the first when he took the ball off the back of safety Melvin Johnson for a 65-yard score; the second with corner Adrian Sherwood draped all over him, for a 33-yard touchdown.

Early in second quarter, wide receiver Alonzo Sullivan, after taking a lateral pass from Matthews, threw back to the quarterback for a 19-yard touchdown and a 28-3 Gator lead.

"Before we knew it, we were behind it seemed like 1,000-to-nothing," Curry said, "and then we started to play."

Robinson's first interception led to Doug Pelfrey adding a 40-yard field goal to an earlier 52-yard boomer, making the halftime score 28-6.

"We just had to believe in ourselves," nose guard Joey Couch said. "Coach Curry came in and put that up on the board, for us to believe in what we're doing, believe in the system, believe in ourselves. That's what we did the second half."

Cannon blocked Shayne Edge's punt and Larry Jackson recovered at the Gator 3. Three plays later, Jones dived in for the touchdown, chopping it to 28-13.

"I wouldn't say we ever let up," Florida Coach Steve Spurrier said. "It was just that everything bad started to happen in the second half."

Like tailback Errict Rhett coughing up the ball at the UK 15; Cannon recovered. Aided by a successful fake punt and 15-yard roughing-the-passer penalty (the passer being punter Bill Hawk), the visitors motored 80 yards with Jones scoring from 8 yards out on an option keeper. A two-point pass failed, keeping the score 28-19 Florida.

"I'm sure they were thinking, 'OK, this can't be happening,' " Clark said of the Gators. "But I wasn't worried about them, I was worried about us. We felt we could win."

Especially after Robinson read a short Matthews pass to Harrison Houston, stepped in front and made the interception, with a clear field ahead. "They ran the same play on me last year, I missed the tackle and they ran it to the goal line," Robinson said.

"I wanted a touchdown bad," he said, "but my body was telling me something else."

Houston chased him down at the Florida 21 after a 53-yard return. But on the first snap, Jones hesitated, sprinted up the middle, dodged would-be tacklers and covered the distance in a terrific burst. "Pookie Jones is a great football player," Curry said.

This was a great comeback. Pelfrey's extra point made the score 28-26. There was 7:53 left.

Who were these guys?

But then Florida showed why it is the SEC champ. The Gators marched from their own 29 and did not make a mistake. Rhett took over, running seven of the last eight plays. His 10-yard run reached the UK 9. He then carred five yards to the 4, two yards to the 2, and two more yards (with 2:22 remaining) to the title.

The Gators celebrated, of course. Spurrier got a victory ride. The fans, nearly all 84,109 of them, screamed. Sugar cubes landed in the end zone. One fan tried to take his celebration to field-level but was gang-tackled by security. As night fell, honking horns could be heard throughout campus.

"This is what we worked so hard for during the off-season," said Matthews, who, despite his three errant throws, passed for 362 yards. "All the things we've avoided all season went wrong today. But we had the confidence in each other, and when it came time for us to do the job on our last drive, we did it."

As for Kentucky? "I give Kentucky tremendous credit," Spurrier said, "their guys came to play."

But just who were these guys?

"When we got down 28-3, we just wanted to play for pride," Jones said. "We wanted Florida to know they'd been in a game."

Those guys surely did.

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