CRAWFORD | Cats not happy, but should be encouraged after loss a - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Cats not happy, but should be encouraged after loss at Florida

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Stanley "Boom" Williams scores in the first overtime period in UK's loss at Florida. (AP photo) Stanley "Boom" Williams scores in the first overtime period in UK's loss at Florida. (AP photo)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (WDRB) -- There's a line between history and heartbreak that is barely measurable. The University of Kentucky football program could offer a doctorate on that line. They could write the textbook. And Saturday night's 36-30 triple-overtime loss at Florida could be a documentary on the subject.

Florida was finished. The Gators were down to a final fourth-down attempt in overtime. Overtime? Yes. Overtime. UK and Florida played 60 minutes and were even -- and not just on the scoreboard.


The Wildcats had scored on their first play in overtime, Stanley "Boom" Williams reversing field after taking a screen pass from Patrick Towles and running 25 yards for a score that had all the style points necessary to end their 27 years of Swamp servitude. Before that play, he was still Stanley to the coaching staff. After it, "yeah, I'll call him Boom after that," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said.

Fourth and seven. Florida at the UK 9. Florida fans had the For Sale signs already polished and ready for coach Will Muschamp's front yard. (They may have them still at the ready.) Florida QB Jeff Driskel took the snap as the play clock expired (some will tell you after the play clock expired, and they might be right). He dropped back, felt some pressure, eluded it, then lofted a pass to the back of the end zone that Demarcus Robinson caught for a TD that gave Florida a reprieve.

There are several things you don't do in Florida. You don't sit through the time share presentation just to get the free theme park tickets. You don't take a toll road without cash and you don't buy gas near an airport.

But mostly, you don't let the Florida Gators off the mat.

Kentucky had missed its moment. Florida, in the third overtime period, used a running back named Matt Jones (no relation, let's get that straight) to drive home the final, painful nail after UK field goal kicker Austin MacGinnis missed a 41-harder on UK's third OT try.

In the locker room after the game, UK coach Mark Stoops used a line with his team from a movie they'd seen just the night before, "When the Game Stands Tall."

"I told them we weren't perfect," Stoops said. "But they played with perfect effort."

Not that anyone was happy.

"We came here to get back on that plane with a win," Stoops said.

There are a lot of losses to compare this one to. Take your pick, the streak of 28 is still intact.

"Don't even bring that streak up, all right," Brown said after the game. "We had a chance to break it. It's one of them deals. You're honest with them. You can't accept moral victories. We're not walking out of here feeling good boasting about how we played. Our kids are disappointed. . . . Monday when we watch this, we'll show them it's a game of inches, a game of details, and there are things we didn't do fundamentally as well as we need to."

But this loss was different from many others, and I'll tell you how.

In this game, Kentucky belonged on the same field with Florida. It may not have as much talent in numbers as the Gators. But it had the better quarterback Saturday. And the better coaching staff. And UK was the younger team, by far. The Wildcats played four redshirt freshmen on the offensive line, two of them for every snap, in their first college road game before a hostile crowd of 88,334. And they were loud.

During a timeout with 5 1/2 minutes to play, ESPN's Paul Finebaum, a longtime SEC observer, took to Twitter to say: "Regardless of how this game ends, Kentucky has earned a lot of respect tonight in the Swamp."

Respect is fine. But Stoops wants people to respect is team's results as much as its effort.

Patrick Towles, redshirt sophomore quarterback, was asked if he felt his team had made any kind of statement. He certainly made one himself. Yes, he threw three interceptions. But one was as good as a long punt, and another went in and out of the hands of receiver Ryan Timmons and was picked off by Florida. Conversely, UK hurt itself with missed chances. A sure interception bounced off the hands of Fred Tiller and into the hands of Robinson, who gained 33 yards for Florida, setting up a touchdown.

Still, Towles rebounded from his mistakes with big plays. After a costly intentional grounding call near UK's own goal line, he calmly stood in his own end zone and found freshman Garrett Johnson for a 22-yard conversion pass. He threw for 369 yards and Brown estimated another 70 were dropped.

"We've made progress, but obviously not enough progress or we would have won that game," Towles said. "Losing sucks. It's awful. I hate it. It's not something that's going to be a habit around here. The whole thing about us 'not supposed to' is gone. That's old Kentucky."

Has Kentucky turned a corner? It sure looked like it in the Swamp on Saturday. But if college football has taught us anything this season, it's that we can't really interpret any result too closely. Frankly, we don't know how good Florida is.

And Kentucky teams and coaches have found themselves in the position of being encouraged by close games against Florida before.

"We're never, ever going to be happy with moral victories, but if we lay it on the line like that and prepare like that and go to play like that, then we'll grow up, and we'll have more opportunities to win," Stoops said.

". . . A year ago, the score was close, but they were in control. This year, I felt like we had a lot of opportunities to win. I'll be honest with you -- I didn't think for a moment we were going to lose that game."

Stoops learned plenty about his team. He learned who is ready to rise to big challenges. He learned Johnson can be a go-to player. He also learned where his team needs work.

But listen. This team is better than Kentucky teams have been in recent years. All it takes is watching them. That may not make anyone happy after a three-overtime loss. But heading into a bye week that figures to be useful, it ought to at least encourage them.

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