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Friday September 27, 2013 Before the streak: A look back at Kentucky's last win vs. Gators

Updated: 4:46pm, September 27

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Where were you Nov. 15, 1986?

I was writing high school sports for The Tampa Tribune, still four years from my first go-around covering the University of Florida. One thing I know for certain: I was not watching the Gators football team that day because they weren’t on television, thanks to NCAA probation sanctions.

For Florida fans, perhaps that was for the best.

Kentucky 10, Florida 3.

Kentucky-Florida It marked the last time in the series that dates to 1917 the Wildcats defeated the Gators. The streak of UF wins, which began with a 27-14 victory at Gainesville in 1987, stands at 26 straight. That’s tied for the longest run in Southeastern Conference history (Tennessee beat Kentucky every year from 1985-2010) and also tied for sixth-longest in NCAA history.

After that game, UF's edge in the series was just 20-17.

Now it's 46-17.

Such staggering mastery cries for one of my trips down Memory Lane.

If you don't believe me, ask The Lexington Herald-Leader, which ran the actual game story from that day on its website Friday. That's UK quarterback Bill Ransdell (left) on the move against the Gators.

Like I often say, not all memorable games are memorable for good reasons, but they’re in the history books and going nowhere.

To the time machine we go.


FOR HISTORICAL CONTEXT (Headlines of Nov. 15, 1986)

* When President Reagan signed the Tax Reform Act of 1986 into law the month before, he set into motion the most sweeping restructuring of the tax system in at least a generation. The signing spurred what had already been an intense race against the clock by taxpayers looking to take maximum advantage of the transition from the old system to the new system.

* The Islamic Jihad group said it would not release the remaining American hostages in Lebanon until its demands were met, dashing hopes for a quick release of the captives. A typewritten statement to the U.S. embassy in Beirut was accompanied by a black and white photograph of Terry Anderson, one of the group’s two remaining hostages.

* The transition of the Senate from Republican to Democratic control began the week before as legislators from each party gathered to pick their leaders for the 100th Congress that would convene in just over six weeks. Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) was set to take over as majority leader, while Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.), who had served as majority leader, would assume the minority role. Democrats would have a 55-45 Senate advantage following the mid-term elections when Republicans lost eight seats.

* The hit movies at the time were “Children of a Lesser God” (with William Hurt and Marlee Matlin, who would win an Academy Award for Best Actress), “The Color of Money (with Paul Newman, who would also win an Oscar for Best Actor, and an up-and-comer named Tom Cruise), plus “Peggy Sue Got Married (starring Kathleen Turner and Nicolas Cage).

* On the tube, “Designing Women,” “L.A. Law” and “Matlock” were in their debut seasons, while Dana Carvey, Phil Hartman and Kevin Nealon were newcomers to the cast of “Saturday Night Live.”

* The biggest hits on the radio were “True Colors” by Cyndi Lauper, “Amanda” by Boston and “Human” by Human League.


THE SETUP

The Gators had won four straight, including back-to-back defeats of rivals Auburn and Georgia, the former an 18-17 win at Florida Field that many a UF diehard still recall as one of the greatest wins -- certianly comebacks -- in school history.

Florida, after starting the season 1-4, was on a role.

A year after the NCAA’s postseason ban kept the 9-1-1 Gators home for the holidays, Florida (5-4, 2-3) went to Kentucky (4-4-1, 1-3) knowing it was the No. 1 choice for the upstart Hall of Fame Bowl in Tampa.

All the Gators had to do was beat the Wildcats.

The game marked the first trip to Lexington since UF celebrated a 25-17 win there in 1984, a victory that clinched the first Southeastern Conference championship in school history. That title, of course, was eventually stripped seven months after the fact by league presidents, who cited the NCAA sanctions and order the title vacated.

The stakes in this game weren’t nearly as high, but Coach Galen Hall and his players, especially the seniors, wanted to exit the SEC season on a winning note and guarantee themselves the first postseason game since 1983.


Gville Sun THE GAME

For the Gators, it was a cold, wet and miserable day all the way around.

As if the 36-degree temperatures at kickoff and constant drizzle throughout weren’t bad enough, Florida did next to nothing on offense, while a backup UK running back had a breakout game in a thoroughly frustrating eyesore of a defeat at Commonwealth Stadium.

Reserve tailback Mark Higgs ran 27 times for 97 yards, including the game’s lone touchdown, and also caught six passes for 52 more yards. Higgs’ TD in the first quarter gave the Wildcats a lead they never relinquished.

A field goal from UF’s Jeff Dawson in the second period marked the only points for the Gators and were countered by a Joe Worley field goal in the fourth.

Florida had one last chance for a miracle drive -- and tie -- but wide receiver Ricky Nattiel fumbled on the back end of a 17-yard completion. Kentucky recovered to ice the game.

UF quarterback Kerwin Bell, who hit just one of his first nine passes in the opening half, finished seven of 24 for 145 yards and two interceptions. The Gators, befuddled by Kentucky coach Jerry Claborne’s signature “Wide-Tackle 6” defense, finished with just 220 yards of total offense, held the ball just 18 minutes, 58 seconds and ran only 49 plays to UK’s 79.

The Wildcats were playing without star running back Ivy Joe Hunter, out of Gainesville Buchholz, who a week earlier had rushed for 238 yards and four touchdowns in a win at Vanderbilt before a late-game injury.

Enter Higgs.

Exit the Gators ... with the loss.


THE QUOTES

> “I have to say this is the worst loss I’ve ever been through. You have to play this game with a lot of emotion and we’ve had trouble in the past getting up for Kentucky. I didn’t think it would be a problem this year, but they just wanted it a little more than we did.” -- UF offensive lineman Scott Armstrong

> “It was wet and cold and the ball had a slick film on it. Two of the passes got away from me and I was never able to get my feet set on the slippery field. Give Kentucky credit. They played a great game and we just couldn’t get anything going.” -- Bell

> “You can’t ever be surprised in college football. Everyone has good players and sometimes those good players can be great players.” -- UF safety Jarvis Williams

> “Kentucky is just like Mississippi State. There is no way we should lose to them. Once again, we just beat ourselves.” -- Nattiel, referencing a 16-7 loss earlier in the season at Mississippi State.

> “Over the years, we’ve been so close to beating Florida. A lot of the Florida players talked a lot of trash. They told me I wouldn’t be able to do anything against them. I think I proved them wrong. ... Florida always thinks they are so big and strong and that they can bully us out there,. They sure didn’t do that today. This game made our season.” -- Higgs, clearly enjoying the moment.

> “Sometimes you have to win on your own. You’ve got to go out and rack it up. You have to shake off the weather and go out and win the game. ... I had no idea we wouldn’t play well. I have no idea why we didn’t.” -- Hall

> "Georgia is a tough, tough football team." -- Claiborne, who was reminded he played Florida. " 'Scuse me," he added.


EPILOGUE

In case you’re wondering what happened from there (and assuming you didn't stop reading about 20 paragraphs ago), the Gators went to Tallahassee the next week and stunned Florida State 17-13 to finish the season 6-5. The Gators, however, were not invited to the posteason. As for the Hall of Fame Bowl, Boston College defeated Georgia 27-24 in that one.

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