Thinking On My Feet
By Jeff Zurcher
The press box is a pleasant place in which to partake of a football game. There's chow (this past week, chicken-not bad); a pretty, panoramic view of the stadium that's second-to-none; climate control; and pages of up-to-date stats passed out for your perusal.
But after UK gained a 14-0 advantage on the Florida (we've-beat-UK-16-straight) Gators last Saturday, the press box suddenly seemed much too muted, pristine. I felt the urge to go down onto the field-to feel the game, instead of simply seeing it.
Wanted to stand closer to the action, to the oncoming history.
Due to archaic press box elevators, I didn't make it to the turf until after Florida had punted. Moseyed over to the Gator bench, thought: They're something they haven't been for a long time here: stunned. House of Pain's "Jump Around" blared over the PA system; the pom-pom squad shook; and UK's silver tubas spun. This is a big-time atmosphere.
On Kentucky's next possession, Lorenzen hit TE Win Gaffron on a screen along the UK sideline; on the other side of the field, Keenan Burton dogged it, running a docile decoy route: freshman. But soon after, Burton made a big 3rd-down reception on a crossing route to bail Lorenzen out: very good freshman.
Two plays later, J-Lo connected with Derek Abney for a big gain, and the sun broke from the clouds. A sign; skies are smiling.
Halftime. Kentucky held Florida to just three points. What? An anomaly. I'm sure this is the Florida Gators, right?
In UF's first series of half two, the Cats forced the Gators into 3rd-and-13. Crowd went wild. Rare raucousness. And later that series, the Florida kicker hooked a 34-yard field goal left. Where am I gonna go when the fans rush the field?
UK's offense ran like champs onto the field after the miss. Confidence. My feet and legs-nay, my whole body-began to hurt from standing up so long. Softy.
At 6:20 in quarter three, UK freshman linebacker Durrell White chased Florida QB Chris Leak right, then back left for a sack. Gonna be a star. The crowd grew louder. Raucous times two.
Kentucky got the ball back, and Abney chugged 42 yards on a reverse to the Florida 6, lowering his head into a group of Gators for the final few feet. He's nails, and this is really gonna happen. I looked at the frisky fans and looked to photographer Victoria Graff for advice on where to go when it happens. She said, "Just don't go near the goal posts." Not a problem.
UK made Florida punt on the next series. Cats are truly the better team today. Then Kentucky got flagged for 12 men on the field. Cats still do stuff inexplicable. Florida capitalized on the mistake, marching down the field for a score on the first play of the fourth quarter. Gators still alive.
I then thought about Florida having to kick onside to Kentucky: delicious.
Cats got the ball and got into a 3rd-and-6 situation: a must. Lorenzen completed a pass to Chris Bernard for a clock-chewing first down. Who's gonna remain in the stands? The police forces began to plan, point. Good luck. On the next play, #22 amazingly escaped all kinds of Florida defenders to throw a first down: Houdini. Kentucky had the ball at its 39 with 12 minutes left. C'mon clock.
On defense after a Lorenzen interception, UK sophomore cornerback Bo Smith knocked down a deep pass from Leak. Another potential star. The next play, a Florida receiver broke free down the sideline, but can't hang on to the high pass. Luck's on Kentucky's side. Finally.
But UF made a first down on 3rd-and-10. Not over yet. However, Bo Smith picked off a fade route seconds later. Maybe a superstar.
Kentucky went nowhere on its ensuing possession, and Florida returned the punt 23 yards to UK's 29. The Cats pushed the Gators to 4th-and-3 a few plays later. This is the ballgame. Then Bo Smith got burnt for a 10-yard TD. Maybe not a superstar yet.
With 4:46 left in the game, yellow-shirted security personnel stretched along the width of each end zone. Are they serious? I tapped reporter Lonny Demaree on the shoulder prior to UK receiving the kickoff: "What do you think?" He noted, "Nothing yet." With UK's lead whittled to 21-16, nothing's probably the right thing to think.
Soon after that foreshadowing, Lorenzen threw another interception that Florida returned to the 1-yard-line; the Gators scored to take the lead shortly after. Reality. The yellow-shirted security guards visibly relax.
I noticed once again how much my legs ached. But the soul aches more.
Still, UK had one more timeout and once more chance. Lorenzen improvised them to 3rd-and-6 at midfield with 2:10 left: warrior. Then, a draw play is called. Why? Then 4th-and-5. No!
But #22 scrambled for another first down: nimble warrior. A sack, a completion, and an incompletion later, Kentucky is forced to try a field goal. The Monkees' "I'm a Believer" came on the PA. Just how many believe?
Taylor Begley trotted on for a 49-yarder to tie the game. Missed. Painful. For a lifetime.
Saw several UK athletic administrators on the sidelines. Grimaces, head shakes, and "tough ones" all around.
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