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Kentucky beats Florida at home for first time since 1986

The Gators have multiple chances late, driving to the Kentucky 5 but coming up short.
Kentucky quarterback Will Levis, right, hugs running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. after the Wildcats beat Florida in Lexington on Saturday night.
Kentucky quarterback Will Levis, right, hugs running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. after the Wildcats beat Florida in Lexington on Saturday night. [ MICHAEL CLUBB | Associated Press ]
Published Oct. 3
Updated Oct. 3

LEXINGTON, Ky. — On the verge of falling further behind No. 10 Florida, Kentucky rose with several gut-check plays for a memorable victory.

Trevin Wallace returned a blocked field goal 76 yards for the go-ahead touchdown late in the third quarter, Chris Rodriguez Jr. had a 9-yard scoring run early in the fourth, and Kentucky made a final defensive stand to hold off No. 10 Florida 20-13 on Saturday night.

The SEC East Division showdown was more of a slog than a slugfest for much of the night, and the Gators (3-2, 1-2) were poised to add a Jace Christmann 48-yard field goal to their 10-7 lead in the third.

But Kentucky defensive end Josh Paschal got a hand on the low kick, and that sent the ball fluttering behind the line to Wallace. The freshman jetted past a tackler on the left sideline and cut back through a small seam to race for the game-changing touchdown with 6:36 remaining in the quarter.

“My job is to play like the safety back there in case anything goes wrong,” Wallace said. “The ball got tipped, and it came right to me. … I knew what to do when I got the ball. I felt one lineman’s hand brush off me and I knew I was gone.”

Kentucky's defense celebrates after stopping Florida on a fourth down to end the game.
Kentucky's defense celebrates after stopping Florida on a fourth down to end the game. [ MICHAEL CLUBB | Associated Press ]

The Wildcats (5-0, 3-0) turned it over on downs at the Florida 34-yard line to start the fourth quarter but quickly created another opportunity when linebacker J.J. Weaver intercepted quarterback Emory Jones’ pass for a first down at the Gators 29. Rodriguez took over from there, rushing three times for 22 yards, including the 9-yard touchdown for a 20-10 cushion with 11:32 remaining in the game.

Florida got within seven on Christmann’s 33-yard field goal with 6:23 left before getting the ball again a couple of minutes later and driving to the Kentucky 5 with the help of a defensive face mask penalty. A 4-yard loss on a pass play and a false start penalty moved the Gators back to the 14, but they still had a final chance from the 8 before Jacquez Jones swatted away Emory Jones’ fourth-down pass with 18 seconds left to seal the win.

Fans stormed the field to celebrate as Kentucky beat Florida at home for the first time since 1986 and took a big step toward challenging No. 2 Georgia in the East. The Wildcats are 5-0 for the first time since going 10-3 in 2018 and just the fourth time in the past 70 years.

“Never been a part of a team that had fans storm the field,” said Kentucky quarterback Will Levis, who transferred during the summer from Penn State. “The fans were awesome.”

Florida quarterback Emory Jones (5) runs the ball upfield during the second.
Florida quarterback Emory Jones (5) runs the ball upfield during the second. [ MICHAEL CLUBB | Associated Press ]

The Wildcats did it despite being outgained 382-211, but they got a 41-yard touchdown pass from Levis to Wan’Dale Robinson in the first quarter and 99 yards rushing on 19 carries from Rodriguez.

A slew of false starts made up many of Florida’s 15 penalties for 115 yards. Jones completed 23 of 31 passes for 203 yards, but the Gators were held way below their average of nearly 541 yards, which ranked ninth in the country going into the game.

“You’re not going to make all the mistakes we made in the course of a game and expect to win,” Florida coach Dan Mullen said. “You’re not going to win in the SEC doing that.”

Kentucky’s loud, boisterous home crowd of 61,632 — one side of the stadium bathed in blue, the other side in white with a corner of Florida fans in orange — appeared to disrupt the Gators’ cadence. They committed consecutive false-start penalties on one second-quarter possession that lost 14 yards and were out of synch on many critical plays, including the final drive.

While Florida players chalked it up to lack of focus, Kentucky coach Mark Stoops was happy with the edge it gave his team.

“(Florida) had seven or eight shots at the end,” he said, “and that is a tough hill to climb to stop them that many times. There was another false start, and thank you, fans, for affecting the game.”