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With one losing streak over, Kentucky seeking an end to string of futility against Gators

By Keith Taylor
Special to NKyTribune

One losing streak came to an end last week and Kentucky wants to put a stop to another one Saturday night.

The Wildcats, coming off a 26-22 triumph over South Carolina that ended a 22-game road losing streak and the school’s first SEC victory away from Commonwealth Stadium since 2009, hopes to keep the momentum alive this weekend against Florida.

The Gators have dominated the series for two-plus decades and have won 28 straight against Kentucky. The Wildcats defeated Florida 10-3 at Commonwealth Stadium in 1986 and haven’t won since. Kentucky came close to ending the Gators’ dominance a year ago in Gainesville before the hosts escaped with a 36-30 victory in triple overtime.

Kentucky quarterback Patrick Towles remembers last year’s six-point setback and said the close loss gives the Wildcats the assurance they can compete with the once-mighty Gators.

“We played Florida really tough last year and that’s not a secret,” Towles said. “I’m excited about playing them again. (Our) place is going to be rocking and I’m excited to get with it.”

Kentucky coach Mark Stoops talks to the media Monday. The Wildcats take on Florida Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium (Photo by Keith Taylor)

Kentucky coach Mark Stoops talks to the media Monday. The Wildcats take on Florida Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium (Photo by Keith Taylor)

In last week’s four-point win at South Carolina, the Wildcats led 24-7 at the break before the Gamecocks scored 15 unanswered to make things interesting in the second half. Kentucky used a late safety on a missed two-point conversion attempt and an interception down the stretch to defeated a Steve Spurrier-coached team for the second straight season.

“I just think the win, the way it unfolded, we talked about that the week before, but to do it against an SEC opponent on the road, with the adversity from the first possession, going down 7-0, and the adversity of having the momentum totally flip on you and be able to overcome that and to win it says a lot about our team and the mental toughness and the focus that we have and the confidence,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said Monday. “I think it helps us.”

Towles wasn’t surprised the Wildcats withstood the late rally and liked the way his teammates remained calm and poised, adding it’s a sign of the team’s maturity level.

“It’s expected now from our guys,” Towles said. “We’re not going to give up. We expect in this league, people are going to make plays. But, the important thing is that we make more than them. (Against South Carolina) it might not have been a lot more plays but it was enough.”

If Kentucky can emulate the success it had in Columbia, especially in the second half, Towles likes the team’s chances of winning close games as the season progresses.

“When the game is on the line, we have enough leadership on offense to make plays,” Towles said. “They’re sophomores but they’ve played a full season. The guys made plays when the game is on the line. If we continue to do that, I like our chances.”

Like his coach, Towles said the win over the Gamecocks was “huge” and “an SEC road win” but added the Wildcats can dwell on the accomplishment in moving forward.

“We’re never going to take (those) kind of wins for granted,” he said. “We’re never going too big for our moment.”

Schedule update: Kentucky’s game against Missouri on Sept. 26 will be a night game and kickoff will be either at 7 or 7:30 p.m.

Keith Taylor is a columnist and senior sports reporter who covers UK sports for the NKyTribune

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