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Three decades of misery continues as Kentucky blows late lead to No. 20 Florida

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Thirty years ago, the Berlin Wall stood tall as the symbol of the Iron Curtain, a ball snuck past Bill Buckner to help the New York Mets win a World Series and gas prices were shockingly under a dollar per gallon. Much has changed in the ensuing three decades since 1986 but one constant has remained no matter what: Florida beating Kentucky in football.

So it continued on Saturday night.

The Wildcats came heartbreakingly close to ending their ignominious losing streak — the fourth longest in FBS history — at an even 30, but gave up two late fourth quarter touchdown drives to fall to their SEC rival Gators 28-27 in the most improbable of fashions.

While the streak has weighed heavily on Kentucky football as it stretched on and on, it felt like this was finally — finally! — the time that the Wildcats could come out on top as the home team played loose but disciplined on both sides of the ball nearly all night long to be firmly in control of this one. Quarterback Stephen Johnson proved to be a revelation behind center, throwing for 196 yards and three touchdowns. Running back Benny Snell  added another 59 yards for good measure and the team held the lead for just the fourth time in the final quarter during the streak.

But it didn’t matter, as Kentucky proved why they have been on the losing end of this series so many times over so many years.

UF wideout Tyrie Cleveland was the lone burst of offense late in the first half, helping turn a potential run-away into a tie game by catching a wide open touchdown pass from 45 yards out. He later setup another Gators’ score off a trick play that cut the lead to six midway through the fourth quarter. Quarterback Luke Del Rio, who eventually entered the game late in the second half, led two touchdown drives in the final 10 minutes that included the game-winning pass to an open Freddie Swain in the corner. Appropriately, Kentucky had just 10 men on the field at the time to further twist the knife for a fan base that was once again left wondering how exactly that happened (again).

The Wildcats nearly drove the length of the field to set up a late field goal but a questionable holding call pushed them out of range and Austin MacGinnis’ 57-yarder came up short to once again put the team on the wrong side of history.

Florida remains afloat in the SEC East after the victory and now moves to 51-17 all-time against UK on the gridiron. Something says that latest edition to the series remains one of the most improbable though.

Looking to end three decades of misery, Kentucky tied with No. 20 Florida at halftime

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It has not been a great day overall for showcasing the power of the SEC East but at least the division could see one of the longest losing streaks in the country come to an end as Kentucky is locked into a tight game with No. 20 Florida 14-all at halftime in a fun atmosphere in Lexington.

The Wildcats generally looked like the sharper of the two teams offensively, racking up nearly six yards per play and scoring on both of their trips into the red zone. The latter of those two touchdowns, a beautiful Stephen Johnson pass to the corner of the end zone and into the hands of Garrett Johnson, was setup by a long punt return from Charles Walker that setup a short field and gave the team another brief lead. Johnson — Stephen that is, the quarterback of the two above — finished with 100 yards through the air and two scores going into the locker room.

Florida would not go quietly into the night with that 30 game win streak against the ‘Cats on the line though. Feleipe Franks was surprisingly solid as a passer when he wasn’t met with a hand in his face and finished with 7-of-9 for 85 yards and a touchdown. Most of that yardage and the score came as time was winding down in the second quarter and the Gators were facing a 4th-and-short from midfield. Not content to just run the ball, the team instead opted to throw it… to a wide open Tyrie Cleveland for a 45-yard score after nobody covered him as part of a defensive miscommunication.

A Vosean Joseph targeting call on the ensuing drive cost the Gators their starting linebacker and nearly gave UK a chance to take the lead but their long field goal attempt from 48 yards out hit the upright.

Could this finally, finally… finally be the time Kentucky beats Florida? The early returns are that the Wildcats will certainly have a fighting chance in the second half in what could be a huge SEC upset.

Antonio Callaway among Gators reportedly set to face felony charges

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If one report is accurate, things are about to get very real for a couple of members of the Florida football team.

Citing unnamed sources, thereadoptional.com reported overnight that “Antonio Callaway, Jordan Smith, and one other player are likely to be arrested on charges of felony grand theft, with the possibility of further misdemeanor charges being tagged on, according to a lawyer representing one of the players.” That trio is part of the group of nine Gator football players who have been indefinitely suspended in connection to the misuse of scholarship money in general and, specifically, for making improper charges on their student debit cards at the school bookstore and then selling those items for cash.  The Read Optional has further added that the players then claimed that the debit cards had been stolen.

In addition to Callaway, a junior wide receiver, and Smith, a redshirt freshman defensive lineman, the other suspended players include junior defensive end Keivonnis Davis, sophomore defensive lineman Richerd Desir-Jones, freshman linebacker James Houston, freshman linebacker Ventrell Miller, junior running back Jordan Scarlett, freshman offensive lineman Kadeem Telfort and redshirt freshman wide receiver Rick Wells.

Charges against the three players, one of whom is unnamed, are expected to be filed later on this week, next week at the latest.  It’s also expected that the other six players will be arrested as well.

Restitution for the debit card scheme has already been made, the website noted.

The off-field trouble for the football program doesn’t end there, however, as The Read Optional is also reporting that a separate investigation into players using stolen credit cards is underway.  From the website:

This morning, we reported that several players were also being investigated in a separate credit card fraud case being run in conjunction by the Gainesville Police Department and the University of Florida Police Department.

Both police departments uncovered the stolen credit card details from the same victim while operating its own individual investigations — the GPD into Jordan Smith paying his rent with stolen credit card details; and the UFPD into the student debit card scheme, an investigation that broadened over time.

The investigation into the stolen credit card information is ongoing, with other student-athletes to be interviewed on Wednesday.

All nine players remain indefinitely suspended from the football program and, based on this report, they will remain that way for the foreseeable future.

Last second Hail Mary lifts No. 24 Florida past No. 23 Tennessee

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A defensive struggle turned into anything but, as a 63-yard rainbow from Feleipe Franks to Tyrie Cleveland as time expired lifted No. 24 Florida to a 26-20 win over No. 23 Tennessee. The win is Florida’s (1-1, 1-0 SEC) 12th win over Tennessee (2-1, 0-1 SEC) in their last 13 meetings.

After Florida took a 6-3 lead into the locker roomC.J. Henderson gave Florida complete control when he snared a tipped Quentin Dormady pass and returned it an easy 16 yards for a touchdown, Florida’s third pick-six of the season — which, to that point, accounted for the Gators’ only touchdowns of the season.

Malik Davis briefly put the offense on the board when he streaked 74 yards down the left side of the field to give the Gators a 20-3 lead with 10:45 remaining in the game. But Davis lost the ball out of the back of the end zone as he crossed the goal line, and the touchdown was turned into a touchback upon review.

Given new life, Tennessee made the most of its extra chance, racing 80 yards in five plays, mostly on the legs of John Kelly, including a 34-yard burst that pulled the Vols to within 13-10 with 8:36 remaining. Kelly celebrated the score with a defiant Gator chomp in the end zone, which rewarded by the officials with an excessive celebration flag.

Tyrie Cleveland returned the ensuing short kickoff 46 yards to the Tennessee 44, sparking the Gators to a 7-play, 44-yard drive that ended in the club’s first offensive touchdown of the season, a 5-yard toss from Feleipe Franks to Brandon Powell with 5:13 to play.

Ignited by their previous touchdown drive — and aided by a winded Florida defense — Tennessee needed only two snaps to move 75 yards for another touchdown. A 52-yard catch-and-run by Kelly set up a 28-yard touchdown pass from Dormady to tight end Ethan Wolf to pull the Vols within 20-17 with 4:43 to play.

Two snaps after that, Tennessee’s defense returned the favor as Rashaan Gaulden snared a tipped Franks pass at the Florida 40. The Vols moved the ball 31 yards to the Florida 9-yard line, but the drive stalled there and Aaron Medley knocked in a 27-yard field goal to tie the game with 50 seconds to play. Medley’s boot also ended a streak of three consecutive missed field goals by he and Brent Cimaglia.

Florida appeared content to sit on the ball until overtime, but Jim McElwain called timeout with nine seconds remaining at his own 37. After scrambling in his own backfield, Franks raced toward the line of scrimmage and threw it as far as he could, where the ball found Cleveland, unmolested in the end zone. He would not be touched until he was mauled by his celebrating teammates.

Franks finished the game 18-of-28 for 212 yards with two touchdowns and an interception, while Davis led the Gators with 94 yards on four carries. Dormady hit 21-of-39 passes for 259 yards with a touchdown and three interception, and Kelly led both teams on the ground and through the air, rushing 19 times for 141 yards and a touchdown and catching six balls for 96 yards.

 

Suspended Florida Nine to remain that way vs. Tennessee

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Florida will again be shorthanded in the personnel department, although this time it’s for the SEC opener.

Meeting with the media ahead of Saturday’s game against Tennessee in Gainesville, Jim McElwain stated there was no update on the nine players who were suspended prior to the season opener against Michigan.  Such a response indicates that the suspended ones will remain that way at least through the Volunteers game.

Those sidelined are junior wide receiver Antonio Callaway, junior defensive end Keivonnis Davis, sophomore defensive lineman Richerd Desir-Jones, freshman linebacker James Houston, freshman linebacker Ventrell Miller, junior running back Jordan Scarlett, redshirt freshman defensive lineman Jordan Smith, freshman offensive lineman Kadeem Telfort and redshirt freshman wide receiver Rick Wells.  The suspensions are reportedly connected to the misuse of scholarship money in general and, specifically, for making improper charges on their student IDs at the school bookstore and then selling those items for cash.

There was one report that more players could be suspended in connection with the scheme, although that’s yet to come to fruition.

Callaway and Scarlett are easily the two most critical suspensions.  The former led the Gators in receiving each of the last two seasons, while the latter was the team’s leading rusher with 889 yards during the 2016 season.