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 Southeastern Conference 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 Jace Christmann’s 48-yard field goal attempt to their 10-7 lead.
Kentucky defensive end Josh Paschal got a hand on the low kick that sent the ball fluttering behind the line to Wallace, a freshman who jetted past a tackler on the left sideline and cut back through a small seam to race for the game-changing TD with 6: 36 remaining in the third.
“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.”
The Wildcats (5-0, 3-0) turned it over on downs at the Florida 34 to start the fourth quarter but quickly created another opportunity when linebacker J.J. Weaver intercepted 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 TD for a 20-10 cushion with 11: 32 remaining.
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 facemask penalty. A 4-yard loss on a pass play and 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 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 Leavis, who transferred this summer from Penn State. “The fans were awesome.”
The Wildcats did it despite being outgained 382-211, but got a 41-yard TD pass from Will Levis to Wan’Dale Robinson in the first quarter and 99 yards rushing on 19 carries from Rodriguez.
A slew of false starts comprised 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 that ranked ninth coming in.
“I mean, you’re not gonna make all the mistakes we made in the course of a game and expect to win,” Florida coach Dan Mullen said. “You’re not gonna 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 sync on many critical plays, including the final drive after they reached the 5 as another penalty moved them backward.
While Florida players chalked it up to lack of focus, Kentucky coach Mark Stoops was happy with the edge it gave his team.
“They 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.”
THREE AND OUT
Both teams struggled on third down. Kentucky entered the game converting 54% of its chances but made just 1 of 8 against Florida. The Gators were just 4 of 13.
Florida figures to drop a few slots with its second SEC loss. Kentucky made a strong case for joining the rankings for the first time since its memorable 2018 season.
Florida: The Gators moved the ball with Jones and Anthony Richardson but couldn’t finish other than their first TD. Christmann’s 51 yard field goal provided an edge, but the block and interception dug a hole they couldn’t climb from. The false starts in a loud environment were especially costly in stalling drives and momentum.
“The main thing that we had to come do is handle the environment,” Jones said. “I think we did part of the game, but we just had too many penalties. You can’t win games like that.”
Kentucky: The Wildcats really had only one sustained drive and committed another yet turnover that nearly cost them until Paschal and Wallace prevented that from happening with a clutch special teams play and TD. Weaver’s pickoff set up an insurance score, a rare takeaway that proved pivotal in a defensive battle.
Florida: Hosts Vanderbilt on Saturday.
Kentucky: Hosts LSU on Saturday.