Sunday, September 29, 2002

Florida 41, Kentucky 34

Special teams smoke Gators, but Wildcats still take loss

The Associated Press

        GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Kickers and punters went running for cover. Return men and defensive backs were begging for more. In a wild game better suited for the back yard than The Swamp, No. 7 Florida overcame a season's worth of special teams miscues to somehow end up with a 41-34 win over Kentucky on Saturday.

        Keiwan Ratliff returned an interception for a touchdown and scored two points on a defensive conversion to help the Gators (4-1, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) overcome their own errors and Derek Abney's two special teams touchdowns.

        When it was over, after nearly four hours of big plays, big mistakes and huge momentum shifts, two points were clear: Despite its victory over Tennessee last week, Florida still has problems.

        And the Wildcats (4-1, 0-1) are legitimate - and disappointed.

        “Moral victories don't get you into bowls,” Kentucky quarterback Jared Lorenzen said. “They don't get you into BCS polls. It makes you feel good for about three hours, and that's it.”

        Gators quarterback Rex Grossman threw for 375 yards and two touchdowns, but that wasn't the big news. There were too many other crazy things happening, mostly on special teams.

        Florida's Matt Leach had two extra points blocked. Punter Sean Morton dropped a clean snap. Morton's replacement, Jason Hunter, had another punt blocked. Earnest Graham lost a fumble that led to a quick Kentucky touchdown.

        Abney had a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and returned a punt 49 yards for another score, the seventh time in NCAA history a player has returned both for a TD.

        It was a special teams debacle courtesy of Gators coach Ron Zook, a special teams guru. After watching those units break down for the umpteenth time, Zook simply stood on the sideline with hand on hip, shaking his head in disbelief.

        “It's as bad as I've ever seen it,” Zook conceded. “I'll take full responsibility, and I'll get it corrected.”

        Abney's punt return pulled Kentucky to within 39-34 with 5:24 left and might have left Florida wondering what else could go wrong. Just then, Ratliff stepped in front of Lorenzen's conversion pass and made it to the end zone for a second time, this time for two points and a seven-point lead.

        “I saw in the first half that they weren't really respecting me, and they were coming at me,” Ratliff said. “I knew I would get some opportunities to make plays.”

        The Wildcats stopped Florida on its next possession but came up empty when they got the ball back. The Gators ran the clock down to two seconds, and the game ended when Marcus Oquendo-Johnson sacked Lorenzen before he could get off a desperation heave.

        Zook, once again, was spinning a success story despite a wildly uneven effort.

        “If we weren't a team that had a chance to be good, we'd have lost today,” he said. “Nobody quit.”

        It was a harsh disappointment for Kentucky, which was off to its first 4-0 start since 1984 and seeking its first win over Florida since '86.

        “I don't want anyone to feel like just because we beat the point spread (19), we beat Florida,” Wildcats senior linebacker Ronnie Riley said. “I'm totally against that. I don't get to play Florida anymore, and that upsets me.”

        Kentucky 0 0 28 6 - 34
        Florida 6 13 13 9 - 41
        First Quarter

        Fla-Graham 1 run (kick blocked), 2:08
        Second Quarter
        Fla-Carthon 19 run (pass failed), 11:55
        Fla-Carthon 6 run (Leach kick), 2:54
        Third Quarter
        Ken-Abney 14 pass from Lorenzen (Begley kick), 11:05
        Fla-Jacobs 4 pass from Grossman (kick blocked), 7:21
        Ken-Abney 100 kickoff return (Begley kick), 6:59
        Ken-Pinner 1 run (Begley kick), 3:21
        Ken-Boone 39 pass from Lorenzen (Begley kick), 3:03
        Fla-Jacobs 35 pass from Grossman (Leach kick), :18
        Fourth Quarter
        Fla-Ratliff 62 interception return (Leach kick), 9:25
        Ken-Abney 49 punt return (pass failed), 5:24
        Fla-Defensive extra-point conversion, 5:24
        RUSHING-Kentucky, Pinner 20-90, Kamphake 1-3, Lorenzen 8-(minus 5). Florida, Graham 32-102, Carthon 6-49, Martin 2-5, Brown 1-(minus 4), Grossman 4-(minus 6), Morton 1-(minus 12).
        PASSING-Kentucky, Lorenzen 20-32-1-180. Florida, Grossman 28-43-0-375.
        RECEIVING-Kentucky, Pinner 4-21, Abney 3-19, Boone 2-40, Bernard 2-27, Simms 2-17, Kamphake 2-15, Bwenge 2-4, Cook 1-21, Drobney 1-11, Harp 1-5. Florida, Jacobs 12-183, Perez 7-89, Walker 2-50, Jackson 2-26, Carthon 2-13, Kight 1-5, Martin 1-5, Graham 1-4.

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