Crowd and defense lead Cats to monumental victory | Local sports
It was definitely a party on Saturday night at Kroger Field.
Fans dressed in blue and white filled the stadium to the brim, rapper Waka Flocka Flame led the Wildcats out of the tunnel before kick-off, and Kentucky shone in the game’s most crucial moments.
By the time the dust settled, the Wildcats went undefeated with a decisive victory over the Florida No.10.
The opportunistic Cats – triggered by a blocked goal on the returned pitch for a touchdown and a change of momentum interception in the second half – held on for a 20-13 victory, prompting British fans to flood the pitch in celebration. It was a feat worth it, considering many of them weren’t born the last time Great Britain beat Florida at home 35 years ago.
“Thanks to BBN, this is for you,” Britain coach Mark Stoops later said, in a direct message to the 61,632 sold-out spectators. “They were really very important today and had an impact on the game. They affected the football game in a very positive way.
In general, Stoops often exhibits low-key demeanor, but that could be the understatement of the year.
The crowd at Kroger Field was simply electric. They rocked, they rolled and they rocked the stadium to the bottom.
As a result, Saturday was a monumental struggle for Florida, which fell to 3-2 on aggregate and 1-2 in the SEC game. False start after false start put the Gators back throughout the game as they eventually racked up eight penalties before the snap. For the game, the Gators finished with more penalties (15) than points (13).
The crowd has never been louder than when Josh Paschal got an outstretched hand on Florida’s field goal attempt and Trevin Wallace retrieved the loose ball and sent it back 76 yards for a touchdown, giving the Kingdom United a 13-10 advantage and his first lead midway through the third quarter.
Florida had a chance to tie the game early in the fourth, but JJ Weaver intercepted Gators quarterback Emory Jones in UF territory and brought him back to the 29-yard line.
Five games later, Chris Rodriguez Jr. entered the end zone for a 9-yard touchdown, giving the UK a 20-10 advantage.
After converting a field goal midway through the fourth quarter, the Gators positioned themselves for a comeback. Just when it appeared Florida was about to force another heartache on Kentucky – who would have been surprised, really? – the Cats’ defense held up. The Gators ran eight games in the red zone with the clock running out, and they came away without any points.
Jacquez Jones made a plunging pass deflection on Florida’s last play to secure the win.
“It was a tough hill to climb,” Stoops said. “Stopping them seven, eight times is brutally difficult. … we mixed things up, we went zero (coverage) a few pieces in a row when we had to. We resisted the cover, we got the pressure, we played in an area, we mixed things up, and it was a hell of a save.
After a simple kneeling of the British Will Levis, the party was launched. Fans celebrated on the pitch and lingered for 30 minutes after the last horn, soaking in the evening they probably wished they would never end.
“I’m really happy for our players, our fan base, our coaches,” Stoops said. “Once again, a great and great team effort. It was beautiful in many ways and shows the character of this football team and the resilience it shows.
“Defensively, in consecutive games, as good a performance as we have had in a long time.”
With the win, the UK improved to 5-0 for just the fourth time in the past 70 years. This is the fifth time the Cats are 3-0 in the league in school history, and it was their first victory against a Top 10 team since 2010.
For a team like Kentucky, which have been beating the glass ceiling over their heads for several years, Saturday’s victory could really change the schedule.
For this to be true, however, the UK must maintain its success and continue to improve. It doesn’t mean as much if you beat Florida one week and then turn around and lose to LSU the following Saturday. Based on the remaining schedule, 2021 could prove to be a greater experience for Kentucky football than anyone ever anticipated.
No one embodies this “never satisfied” mentality like Mark Stoops.
“For me, it’s back to work tomorrow morning,” he said. “I’m going to celebrate it for a few hours, but I practice what I preach to the team.
“We want to play in a lot of big games. We have a long way to go. I’m very excited and very proud of this group, but we have to go back and hit the clock tomorrow.
For Saturday night, at least, it was a party – a party the Cats will never forget.