UK Football

John Clay: Matt Roark takes unlikely place in UK lore

Kentucky quarterback Matt Roark was carried off the field by fans and teammates after the Wildcats defeated Tennessee, UK's first win over the Volunteers since 1984.
Kentucky quarterback Matt Roark was carried off the field by fans and teammates after the Wildcats defeated Tennessee, UK's first win over the Volunteers since 1984.

It wasn't Tim Couch.

Andre Woodson first mentioned it to Matt Roark on Sunday, the day after Kentucky lost at Georgia, the day after quarterback Maxwell Smith injured his shoulder.

Woodson is UK's quarterbacks coach. Roark is a senior receiver. Woodson told Roark he might be needed to play some quarterback, a position he had never played in college, so he better watch some film.

"So I did," said Roark.

It wasn't Jared Lorenzen.

On Monday, offensive coordinator Randy Sanders called Roark into his office and told the senior he was making a simple game plan for Roark to play quarterback.

"I figured maybe it was going to be one or two series, or a few plays during the game," said Roark.

It wasn't Andre Woodson.

Then Tuesday, his wide receivers coach, Tee Martin, told Roark that more than likely he would be starting at quarterback.

"I wanted to tell everybody," said Roark, "but I couldn't because they told me not to. ... My family's got big mouths. And my friends tweet all the time."

It wasn't Freddie Maggard.

By Thursday, Maxwell Smith had improved enough to where head coach Joker Phillips thought maybe the starting quarterback could go against the Vols, "but we had practiced so well with Matt" the staff decided to go ahead and make the plunge.

"I wouldn't say it was because Matt practiced so well," Sanders said, smiling.

When the Cats came out for warm-ups on Saturday, Roark was catching passes with the receivers. But after the Kentucky defense forced the Vols to punt on the game's first series, Roark ran out onto the field as he normally does. But this time, as quarterback.

It wasn't Pookie Jones.

"We tried to keep it simple," said Sanders.

There were 51 plays on Roark's wristband. And four of those, said Sanders, he wasn't going to call unless he absolutely had to call them. By comparison, the UK coach said he usually has six sheets of plays from which to call. This game, he had one sheet.

"And that one had a lot of empty spaces," he said.

It wasn't Shane Boyd.

Was Roark nervous?

"I kind of got nervous, but not really," he said. "I felt good, I felt so comfortable doing that because I had done it forever."

Roark was a high school quarterback. Tee Martin was his high school coach. Upon coming to Kentucky he was switched to receiver, the same receiver benched early this season for dropping passes who bounced back to have a couple 100-yard receiving games.

It wasn't until high school that Roark got to know his father, Ray Gover, the former UK football player (1985-88) who had played with and is good friends with Phillips.

It wasn't Billy Jack Haskins.

"After the Central Michigan game, he had his head down and I told him to get his head back up," said Sanders, "that he was a good football player and we were going to need him. I'm glad he did that."

The Cats never needed him more than Saturday, and the wideout-turned-quarterback came through with flying colors, rushing for 124 yards on 24 carries without turning the ball over.

On the eight-play, 77-yard touchdown drive that gave Kentucky a 10-0 lead early in the fourth quarter, Roark had a 24-yard run on third-and-1 and a 26-yard run to the Tennessee 7-yard line on third-and-12.

It wasn't Mike Hartline.

"We won the game with a wide receiver playing quarterback," said Sanders. "That's what we did."

Then afterward, when it was over, when Kentucky had beaten Tennessee 10-7, Roark wasn't running, he was riding, carried off the field by his teammates and fans.

"I never," he said, "expected to do anything like that."

It wasn't Dusty Bonner.

Years from now, they will ask the question who was behind center when Kentucky broke its 26-year losing streak to Tennessee.

The answer will be the wide receiver who in his final college game made his first start at quarterback.

"This," said Matt Roark, "is the memory that's going to be in my head for the rest of my life."

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