Mark Story

The three games that changed the entire UK football fan experience

Kentucky safety Darius West (25) got a hug from Coach Mark Stoops after the Cats’ 27-16 victory at Florida.
Kentucky safety Darius West (25) got a hug from Coach Mark Stoops after the Cats’ 27-16 victory at Florida.

One cannot blame The Long-Suffering Kentucky Football Fan if she/he woke up Sunday feeling discombobulated.

Until Saturday night, the dominant ethos of the UK football fan experience in the 21st century had been the yearning to see the Wildcats end three decades-long losing streaks.

At one point, Kentucky had lost 17 games in a row to teams coached by Steve Spurrier.

At one point, Kentucky had lost 26 games in a row to Tennessee.

Before Saturday night, Kentucky had lost 31 games in a row to Florida.

Now, after the 27-16 UK upset of No. 25 Florida on Saturday night in The Swamp, all three of the “Kentucky ugly streaks” are no more.

It is a new day for followers of Kentucky football.

Let’s contrast the three Wildcats victories that reshaped the experience of being a UK football fan.

Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops talks to the media after his team’s 27-16 win over Florida on Sept. 8, 2018. The win snapped a 31-game losing streak to Florida.

The Spurrier streak

History of the streak: As Florida head coach, Steve Spurrier beat Kentucky all 12 times (1990-2001) he faced the Wildcats. As South Carolina head man, Spurrier whipped the Cats the first five times (2005-09) he faced Kentucky.

The day the streak died: Oct. 16, 2010, at the venue then known as Commonwealth Stadium.

The plot: South Carolina led UK 28-10 at halftime behind the brilliance (79 yards rushing and two touchdowns; four receptions for 133 yards and score) of star freshman running back Marcus Lattimore.

However, a sprained ankle sidelined Lattimore for half two. With Lattimore out, Spurrier’s offense went stagnant. UK scored the game’s final 21 points.

Final score: Kentucky 31, No. 10 South Carolina 28

Streak slayer: UK quarterback Mike Hartline completed 32 of 42 passes for 349 yards and four touchdowns. His 24-yard scoring toss to Randall Cobb on a fourth-and-7 play with 1:15 left was the game-winner.

Randall Cobb TD to beat S Carolina.JPG
Randall Cobb’s 24-yard touchdown reception from Mike Hartline with 1:15 left in the game gave UK a 31-28 upset of No. 10 South Carolina and its first victory over a Steve Spurrier-coached team after 17 losses. Pablo Alcala Herald-Leader file photo

UK coach: Joker Phillips

Defining quote: Mike Hartline: “You couldn’t have written it any better. Like a dream.”

The Tennessee streak

History of the streak: Starting in 1985 through 2010, Tennessee (rocky) topped Kentucky all 26 times the teams met on a football field.

The day the streak died: Nov. 26, 2011, at the venue then known as Commonwealth Stadium.

The plot: For its final game of 2011, Kentucky found itself without a healthy quarterback. Out of desperation, UK offensive coordinator Randy Sanders designed a game plan around wide receiver Matt Roark playing QB and running the read option out of the pistol formation.

Matt Roark carried off field after beating UT.JPG
Kentucky’s Matt Roark (3) was carried off the field after the wide receiver turned quarterback led Kentucky to a 10-7 win over Tennessee in 2011, snapping a 26-game UK losing streak vs. UT. Lexington Herald-Leader file photo

Kentucky’s unexpected quarterback situation seemed to take the “end the streak” pressure off the Wildcats and lull the Volunteers to sleep. UK took a 10-0 lead early in the fourth quarter. The Cats defense gave up a 53-yard Tennessee touchdown bomb but then stopped the Vols offense four straight times to preserve the victory.

Final score: Kentucky 10, Tennessee 7

Streak slayer: Matt Roark entered his name forever in UK sports lore by running for 124 yards and finally silencing “Rocky Top.”

UK coach: Joker Phillips

Defining quote: Kentucky safety Winston Guy: “We can lay our head down at night and say, ‘I’m the one that beat Tennessee.’ That’s how we’ll be remembered for the rest of our lives.”

The Florida streak

History of the streak: Starting in 1987 through 2017, the Gators chomped the Wildcats all 31 times the teams met on a football field.

The day the streak died: Sept. 8, 2018, at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville

The plot: One season after Kentucky failed to end the Gators’ dominance in spite of leading 27-14 in the fourth quarter in 2017, UK went to The Swamp and finished the job.

Behind dominant offensive line play, the Cats controlled the game with the running of Benny Snell (175 rushing yards). UK overcame a 10-7 halftime deficit with three second-half TDs.

Benny Snell runs at Florida
Kentucky running back Benny Snell (26) ran for 175 yards on 27 carries in UK’s streak-busting, 27-16 victory at Florida Saturday night. Alex Slitz

Final score: Kentucky 27, No. 25 Florida 16

Streak slayer: In his first road start as a FBS quarterback, UK sophomore Terry Wilson threw for 151 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 105 yards and a score to become the first Kentucky QB with a victory over Florida since Bill Ransdell in 1986.

UK coach: Mark Stoops

Defining quote: Mark Stoops: “You’ve heard me talk about knocking down doors. Well, this is a big one to knock down this door. We did it the right way by being a good, hard-nosed, tough football team.”

The end of all three of the losing skids that so filled the Wildcats football experience this century should feel like a weight lifted off the backs of all with an emotional investment in Kentucky football.

In the coming years, progress will be confirmed if future Cats fans never again have to celebrate the ending of decades-long losing streaks.

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230; Twitter: @markcstory

Kentucky outside linebacker Josh Allen talks about UK’s 27-16 win at Florida on Sept. 8, 2018.


Murray State at Kentucky

Noon (SEC Network Alternate)