Date story was published: Sunday, November 19, 1989
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- These are the bounces that break backs.
First half. Down three points, Kentucky drives the football into Florida territory. Momentum mounts. Third-and-four, quarterback Freddie Maggard rifles a slant pass to wide receiver Phil Logan, whose eyes leave the target to grab a quick glimpse at open field. Mistake. Ball strikes shoulder pad.
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Second half. Kentucky has driven its opening possession 77 yards, cutting the lead to 10. Momentum sniffs a comeback. Now the Gators bobble the ensuing kickoff, Tony Lomack finally securing the ball at his 1. He looks up, sees onrushing white shirts and makes the 20-yard line his goal. Once there, Lomack finds himself untouched. "That eased my mind," he said. "So I just kept going."
So it was yesterday that whenever Kentucky drew near the Florida Gators, the ball took a bounce and the Cats got blitzed, losing 38-28 at Florida Field.
Yes, blitzed. Florida led 24-7 at the half, 31-14 after three quarters, 38-14 with five minutes left before two late UK touchdowns -- one a 96-yard razzle-dazzle kickoff return -- brought respectability to the final score.
"Desperation situations," UK coach Jerry Claiborne called them.
And the Gators drove them there. Emmitt Smith motored on, gaining 126 yards and two touchdowns before spraining a foot in the final quarter. Quarterback Donald Douglas, a true freshman, scrambled for 51 yards, scoring twice himself. The quick-strike Florida defense sacked Maggard seven times. Defensive tackle Tony McCoy led the sack attack with two.
And twice when Kentucky pulled within striking range, Florida turned bad bounces into big plays. First was Will White's 40-yard interception return setting up a score. Second was Lomack's 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, breaking the Cats' back.
"They just made the plays," said UK linebacker Craig Benzinger. "And we didn't."
Thus Florida improved to 7-3, ending its Southeastern Conference slate at 4-3. Kentucky dropped to 6-4 overall and 2-4 in the league. This after last week's win over Vanderbilt that was UK's first SEC road victory in five years.
Yesterday, playing a team that had lost its last two games and scored but 17 points in the process, Kentucky never led. "The worst thing we did was the kicking game," Claiborne said.
As in cover kicks. From the start. Lomack, a senior wide receiver, returned the opening kickoff 45 yards to the Kentucky 40. Six plays later, Smith carried UK linebacker Billy Swanson into the end zone from a yard out. When kicker John David Francis ended Florida's next possession with a 37-yard field goal, Florida led 10-0 with five minutes still left in the quarter.
But UK struck back. Alfred Rawls scored on an 11-yard run up the middle, capping a 71-yard drive. Two possessions later, Kentucky was moving again, successive 7-yard Mike Thomas runs gaining a first down. Two plays later, third-and-four at the Florida 34, Maggard threw a quick strike to Logan, slanting toward the middle from the left side.
"But I was so anxious to run the ball," Logan said, "I looked at the green in front of me and took my eyes off the ball for a second."
A suicide second. The ball struck Logan's right shoulder and bounced directly to Gator safety Will White. Forty yards later White was tackled at the UK 20. Four plays later, Douglas sneaked up the middle for a 5-yard touchdown, dragging three Cats (Benzinger, Eugene McClellan and Tony Zigman) along for the ride.
It got worse. A clip on the kickoff return started UK at its 6. Thus Florida's next drive started at midfield. Smith took it from there, carrying for 14, 12, 11 (plus 5 yards when a Cat grasped his face mask), 3, 2, and finally 3 for the score. Halftime: Gators 24, Cats 7.
And yet starting the second half, Kentucky appeared ready for redemption, gaining 119 yards. Well, 77 actually, after Rawls' 42-yard scamper to the Florida five was brought back by a motion penalty. No matter. Maggard simply scrambled 20 yards for a first down. Then from the Gator 23, Rawls swept right, did a sudden cutback left and left the Gators flat-footed as he scored. The lead was 24-14. There was 9:43 left.
A short 19 seconds brought major change.
It was supposed to be a reverse. That's what Florida called. Whichever Gator deep man fielded the kick would hand off to the other. Only no one fielded it, not right away anyway. Finally, Lomack gathered it at the 1-yard line and decided to do the best he could.
"We knew they left a little opening on the right hash and we wanted to attack that spot," he said. "But when I first picked it up, I just wanted to get to the 20."
Ninety-nine yards later, the longest Gator kick return in 40 years, Lomack touched the end zone. And Kentucky deflated. "If it wasn't for that," Maggard said, "I think it would have been a different game."
Instead, the game was over. True, after Florida made it 38-14, UK produced a moment for the highlight film. John Bolden fielded a kickoff on the right sideline, ran 11 yards, then threw all the way back across the field to the left side to a waiting Logan.
"In practice, John always throws it too high or too short, never perfect," Logan said, "but this was perfect."
Florida was perfectly fooled. Logan took a clear path down the left sideline for the 85-yard touchdown with 4:36 left. With 2:10 left, Logan grabbed a 10-yard scoring pass from Maggard to complete the scoring. "But," said Logan, "it wasn't enough."
Good Gators and bad bounces made it so.