Back Gators Up to the Trask in Lexington Again

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Gators Up to the Trask in Lexington Again

By Matt Smith
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Throughout the course of its now 32-year, 16-game winning streak at Kroger Field in Lexington, Florida has defeated Kentucky in every which way possible.

Throughout the course of its now 32-year, 16-game winning streak at Kroger Field in Lexington, Florida has defeated Kentucky in every which way possible. There were shootouts in the Steve Spurrier era. There were defensive struggles in the Jim McElwain era. It was a different route to a common end each time the Gators ventured north.

On Saturday night, Florida yet again came up with an original potion to vanish hopes of a win that Wildcats fans have been waiting for three decades to celebrate in front of their team.

Kentucky led 21-10 in the final seconds of the third quarter, controlling the two middle quarters after Florida had taken an early 7-0 lead. Gators quarterback Feleipe Franks had just left the game with a gruesome injury, later revealed by head coach Dan Mullen to be a season-ending ankle dislocation. The Wildcats were controlling the line of scrimmage and facing a 3rd and 1 in Gators territory. Surely, they could manage one yard in two plays to continue their drive that could ice the game. Florida was finally going down in the Bluegrass State.

It hadn’t happened for 33 years. It didn’t happen Saturday night.

The Gators turned away Kentucky running back A.J. Rose on consecutive snaps, regaining possession early in the final quarter, as junior Kyle Trask prepared to see his first meaningful snaps as Florida’s quarterback in relief of Franks. There was no time to ease him into the game. It was now or never, and Trask didn’t waste one play.

Van Jefferson for eight yards. Josh Hammond for 14 yards. Jefferson again for 20 yards, and then for 12 more. Florida was in business. Two plays later, Lamical Perine punched it in from eight yards out to cut Kentucky’s lead to five. Florida had a shot, and now the ghosts of the past were hovering over the Wildcats bench.

The teams traded punts, with Florida able to pin Kentucky, playing with a backup quarterback of its own in Sawyer Smith after Terry Wilson was lost for the season last week, in the shadows of its own goalposts. Smith showed some promise, but his mistakes were significant, including an interception deep in his own territory after a miscommunication with star wide receiver Lynn Bowden.

Hello, ghosts.

Trask got the ball back with a chance to win the game. After a first touchdown drive that was led solely by his arm, Trask needed some help from the officials, as Kentucky was flagged for a pass interference penalty followed by a targeting penalty on a sack that would have put Florida in a grim 3rd-and-15 situation. Trask found Kylie Pitts for 30 yards to put the Gators in scoring position, and capped the drive two plays later by taking it in himself from four yards out. Just like that, it was 22-21, Florida.

Kentucky had another chance to win, because, why wouldn’t it in a Florida-Kentucky game? The ‘Cats worked their way into the red zone, but stalled and had to settle for a 35-yard field goal attempt from Chance Poore.

That’s Poore, as in poor with an “e” on the end. You knew how this was going to end.

The kick stayed wide of the right upright, and Florida was near survival. The Gators needed one more first down, but instead they got a touchdown, as Hammond took an end around 76 yards for a touchdown that he didn’t need to score, but couldn’t help himself after a three-hour ride on an emotional rollercoaster. Florida intercepted Smith’s last-second Hail Mary pass, and just like every game they had played there since late in the Reagan administration, the Gators walked off of Kroger Field victorious.

Like so many games before, it’s hard to explain just how Florida won. The better team was probably the one in blue and white, not orange and blue. Kentucky had the ball for 35 minutes, and trailed for only 11. Yet, there’s still a big fat zero in the loss column for Florida, and Kentucky fans are left scratching their heads as to why it happened again.

Going forward, the Gators are Trask’s team. He was in the mix for the starting role during training camp in 2018, but ultimately lost out to Franks. Unlike many other backups with starter expectations these days, Trask stayed with the team rather than transfer, and he finally got his moment to shine on Saturday night. Who knows what the future holds for Trask, but he’ll always have Saturday night about which to tell his grandkids someday

Florida faces Tennessee and Towson in Gainesville in the next two weeks before the schedule toughens. Trask’s goal is to get Florida to the Georgia game on Nov. 2 with the SEC East lead up for grabs. That probably requires a win over one of Auburn (at home) or LSU (on the road). Mullen always gets the most out of his quarterbacks, so the expectations are for Trask to take over and for the Florida offense to not miss a beat, and perhaps even eliminate some of the big mistakes to which Franks was prone.

If I have to write a story about the 2021 Florida-Kentucky game in Lexington, I don’t know what it’ll be about, but I know Florida will have won, and that the outcome will have made little sense.

Matt Smith - Matt is a 2007 graduate of Notre Dame and has spent most of his life pondering why most people in the Mid-Atlantic actually think there are more important things than college football. He has blogged for College Football News, covering both national news as well as Notre Dame and the service academies. He credits Steve Spurrier and Danny Wuerffel for his love of college football and tailgating at Florida, Tennessee, and Auburn for his love of sundresses. Matt covers the ACC as well as the national scene.