Date story was published: Sunday, November 13, 1988
All year the Wildcats had been the underdogs; everything to gain, nothing to lose. Yesterday that changed. And with it, so did Kentucky.
"We put a lot of pressure on ourselves," said offensive tackle Mike Nord. ''We weren't thinking as much about Florida as we should have because we were thinking about a bowl."
No longer. Florida is the one most likely bowl-bound after spoiling the Wildcats' home finale with a 24-19 victory yesterday at Commonwealth Stadium, erasing Kentucky from the post-season picture.
Trailing 6-0 with three minutes left in the third quarter, the Gators erupted for 24 points in a span of 15 minutes to end a four-game losing streak, improve to 6-4 and apparently earn a bid to the Dec. 29 All American Bowl in Birmingham.
Kentucky, its win streak stopped at three, fell to 5-5 overall and 2-4 in the SEC. "Sure it's a crushing loss," said Wildcat head coach Jerry Claiborne. "I'd be inhuman to say it wasn't."
Blame the officials. Point to a crucial/controversial third-quarter defensive holding call. Curse the wind. Yet in the end, UK fell for one major reason: "We just made entirely too many mistakes," said Claiborne.
In the first half, Kentucky's offense couldn't cash in on superb field position, settling for two field goals and a 6-0 halftime lead.
In the second half, the game (field position, momentum) turned when sophomore Chris Tolbert, himself a Florida native (Pensacola), fumbled a punt at his 27. Five plays later, UK linebacker Chris Chenault recovered Gator quarterback Kyle Morris' fumbled snap from center, only to see the play nullified by a defensive holding call on Cat cornerback Albert Burks against Gator receiver Tony Lomack.
The next play, 2:49 left in the quarter, Florida's super sophomore Emmitt Smith scored from the 5 -- the Gators' first touchdown in 12 quarters -- giving the visitors a lead they would never relinquish.
"Obviously," said Galen Hall, Florida's embattled coach, "we are pleased at the outcome."
Kentucky mounted a furious late rally, scoring two touchdowns in a 40- second stretch to pull within five points. But the Cats' last hope, a second onside kick, sailed out of bounds. Once UK got the football back, 24 ticks remained, and Gator defensive back Bill Lang intercepted quarterback Glenn Fohr's desperation heave.
"It was a tough game to lose," said Claiborne afterward. "We thought the kicking game was going to be a key and it turned out to be. But we just made too many mistakes. I guess we were just trying too hard."
Considerable reason existed for that. By most reports, yesterday's victor was ticketed for post-season play, something the Wildcats had missed since 1984.
"We wanted to win this game so bad for Coach Claiborne, for ourselves," said defensive guard Vic Adams. "Basically, because everybody wrote us off at the beginning of the season."
UK's offense managed a meager 27 yards rushing in 31 attempts, just 6 total yards the entire third quarter. It's initial first down of the second half came with less than two minutes remaining in the game. Worse still, Kentucky committed five turnovers -- three interceptions, two fumbles.
"Kentucky was predictable," said Florida nose guard Jeff Roth. "It seemed like we knew every play they were going to run."
Not surprisingly, such woes placed added pressure on UK's defenders. "We left them out on the field too long," Nord said.
Through nearly three quarters, UK's defense kept the Gators' offense struggling. Yet the Cat offense could not capitalize, settling for two Ken Willis field goals. The junior came extremely close to making a spectacular 66-yarder right before halftime. The wind at his back, his boot was plenty long, but to the right.
Then, with 5:14 left in the third quarter Tolbert fumbled the punt. Florida's Greg Baldwin recovered.
"I was trying to come up on the ball and I slipped," Tolbert said. "It hit me in the face mask. The momentum changed a little bit, but then we got the fumble."
Not quite. True, Morris (who had replaced Perry at quarterback the previous series) fumbled and Chenault recovered. But the Cats were called for defensive holding.
"I never did get an explanation," said Claiborne. "Somebody told me it was a dead-ball foul. If that was it, we should have had the ball. But I don't know what happened."
According to the Gators, Burks, a junior cornerback, slung Lomack to the ground. The call gave the visitors a first-and-goal at the 5. Smith -- 113 yards on 28 carries -- scored and the Gators took off.
"I don't think they would have ever scored, the way we were shutting them down," said UK defensive end Jay Dortch. "But that gave them field position."
Plus, in the fourth quarter, UK had the extra hindrance of the wind. With it in his face, UK's Jay Tesar shanked a 15-yard punt and Florida's John David Francis promptly kicked a 47-yard field goal making it 10-6.
Receiving the ensuing kickoff, UK's Alfred Rawls started out of the end zone, tried to retreat, then came out again, only to be tackled at his own 6. Chuck Broughton's appearance at quarterback failed to spark the offense. Tesar's 34-yard kick gave Florida the ball at the 40.
The Gators scored in eight plays, two of them clutch Morris completions. On a third-and-19, he found tight end Mark McGriff for 20 yards. On third-and-15, Morris hit Lomack for 20 more to the 14. A play later, Smith scored from the eight, making it 17-6.
The Gators nearly scored on the next drive, only to have running back Willie McClendon ruin a 25-yard run by fumbling at the UK 5. No matter. Kentucky couldn't move and Tesar's 34-yard kick gave Florida the football at the Wildcat 47. Six plays later, McClendon scored from the 2, making it 24-6 Florida with 2:22 remaining.
Fohr returned and UK rallied. Completions of 30 and 39 yards to Neal Clark reached the Gator 11, where Fohr hit Phil Logan for the score with 1:37 left.
UK's Tony Massey recovered an onside kick. Fohr located Logan again, this time for a 33-yard score with 54 seconds left.
But the second onside attempt floated out of bounds, giving Florida possession. Using its timeouts, UK did force Florida to punt. But, on his own 8, Fohr's long fire was intercepted by Lang.
"We were real proud of the way the kids came back," said Claiborne. ''We're disappointed. But we've still got to go to Tennessee; we can still have a winning season."
"Right now," said Dortch, "that means everything."