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Missed field goal among miscues that cost UK in tough loss to Florida

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Game day: Kentucky vs. Florida

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After leading for much of the contest, several late miscues caught up to Kentucky and ended its shot at building its first win streak against Florida in more than 40 years.

The Gators defeated the Cats 29-21 after holding them scoreless over the final 20:39. UK’s last five drives ended in a failed fourth-down conversion, a punt, an interception, a 35-yard field-goal attempt missed by redshirt freshman Chance Poore, and an interception.

Florida has won 32 of its last 33 games against Kentucky, which ended a 31-game losing streak last season. Three of the last four Florida wins in the series were decided within a single-digit margin.

Sawyer Smith finished 21-for-28 for 251 yards and two touchdown passes with three picks in his first start as a Wildcat. The Gators outscored Kentucky 19-0 in the final quarter.

Both teams turned the ball over in the game’s first four minutes. Tyrell Ajian intercepted a pass by Feleipe Franks inside the Cats’ 10-yard line, his second career interception, but a bumbled snap on third-and-inches was recovered by Florida after UK moved forward on its first two plays.

An offside penalty by Jordan Wright on third-and-5 set Florida up at first-and-goal. A targeting penalty in the end zone by Yusuf Corker — which was confirmed following a review, resulting in his ejection — extended the Gators’ drive. Freddie Swain caught a touchdown pass to put Florida ahead, 7-0.

Smith was sacked for an 8-yard loss — and almost lost the ball again — but bounced back to lead UK’s first scoring drive. He was 6-for-6 for 89 yards on the Cats’ second possession, which ended in a TD throw to Ahmad Wagner that held up following an official review.

Franks hit Van Jefferson for a 31-yard bomb on Florida’s next drive but on the Gators’ next play was sacked by Kordell Looney and fumbled the ball. True freshman Taj Dodson recovered it for Kentucky, which marched 54 yards to take the lead on a goal-line sneak by Smith.

Florida next drove to the UK 10-yard line but missed a 27-yard field goal. Kentucky’s final drive of the first half ended on a punt, the first by either team, and the Gators took a knee to end the period.

Kentucky drove to Florida’s 18 to open the second half but the drive ended in an interception thrown by Smith, who tracked down Florida defender Shawn Davis for a touchdown-saving tackle at UK’s 21. An offensive pass interference penalty and another big tackle, by junior college transfer Brandin Echols helped UK’s defense hold the Gators to a field goal.

UK answered with another touchdown drive, aided by a targeting call against Florida defensive back Donovan Stiner. It ended with a 21-yard throw to redshirt freshman Keaton Upshaw, a tight end who scored for the first time in his college career.

Franks, with 3:21 left in the third quarter, was carted off the field after suffering a leg injury on a fourth-down rush attempt. He was 12 of 17 for 174 yards and had rushed for 23 yards before exiting.

UK failed to convert a fourth-and-1 as the final quarter began. Kyle Trask, a redshirt junior, replaced Franks and led the Gators to a 62-yard TD drive. Trask completed his first four pass attempts before an incompletion preceded an 8-yard score by Lamical Perine; a two-point pass attempt failed.

Kentucky’s offense again stalled on its next drive, but Max Duffy followed it up with a 63-yard bounce to the Florida 4-yard line. The Gators drove to their 48 but were forced to punt.

Smith threw a second interception on UK’s subsequent drive. Defensive end T.J. Carter was ejected for targeting during Florida’s next possession, which ended in a 4-yard scoring run by Trask (another two-point try, a rush, failed). Poore’s missed field goal happened on UK’s next go on offense.

Josh Hammond tacked on a final TD, a 76-yard run, with 33 seconds to play.

Senior defensive tackle Phil Hoskins suffered a knee injury during warm-ups and was questionable to play in the game, according to a UK spokesperson. Hoskins, who missed UK’s first two games of the season due to an academic issue, did not play in the game but was spotted on the Wildcats’ bench. The 6-foot-5, 306-pound Toledo native was listed as the backup to Calvin Taylor Jr. on Kentucky’s depth chart entering the week.

Next game

Kentucky at Mississippi State

4 p.m. Saturday (SEC Network or SEC Alternate)

Josh Moore is in his first year covering the University of Kentucky football team and in his fifth year reporting for the Lexington Herald-Leader, where he’s been employed since 2009. Moore, a Martin County native, graduated from UK with a B.A. in Integrated Strategic Communication and English in 2013. He’s a huge fan of the NBA, Power Rangers and country music.
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