LEXINGTON, Ky. — Florida backup quarterback Luke Del Rio hit wide receiver Freddie Swain for a 5-yard touchdown with 43 seconds left that erased a double-digt fourth-quarter deficit and gave the No. 20 Gators a 28-27 victory that stunned upset-minded Kentucky and its Kroger Field faithful Saturday night and and pushed UF's winning streak in the series to an astounding 31 straight games.
UK, which opened a 27-14 lead with just under 12 minutes to go, had a chance to win the game at the gun, but Austin McGinnis' desperation field-goal attempt from 57 yards was short as time expired.
Del Rio, the fourth-year junior, was summoned in the second half to replace redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks, who was ineffective in his first road start. Del Rio, with 6:31 remaining, took over at UF 42 and marched the Gators (2-1, 2-0) 58 yards in 13 plays, converting two third downs and two fourth downs along the way. Facing a third-and-1 at the UK 5, Del Rio took the snap from center and lofted a soft pass to Swain, all alone in the right flat of the end zone.
On Kentucky's ensuing series, quarterback Stephen Johnson started his unit at his own 25, but completed an 11-yard pass on first down, plus got 15 bonus yards on a roughing-the-quarterback penalty against UF defensive end Jabari Zuniga that put the ball at the Florida 49. After three straight incompletions and facing a fourth-and-10, Johnson hit Charles Walker for a 14-yard completion to the UF 35. On the next play, running back Benny Snell Jr. went up the middle for 10 yards to the UF 25, but the play was called back for holding, pushing the the Wildcats back to the UF 45.
A six-yard completion gave McGinnis, who'd hit a 50-yarder earlier a chance, but his try was well short.
Kentucky has not defeated Florida since a 10-3 victory here on Nov. 17, 1986. The run of 31 straight is the fourth-longest such streak in college football history.
Del Rio finished nine of 14 for 74 yards, the one touchdown and an interception., Franks was 7-for-12 for 85 yards, one touchdown and no picks.
Three touchdown passes by Johnson and a couple second-half field goals by McGinnis had Kentucky in front 27-14 until a six-run touchdown run by UF senior slot back Brandon Powell with 7:58 to play drew the Gators within striking distance with 7:58 remaining.
Johnson's third scoring strike came on UK's first possession of the second half and broke a 14-14 halftime deadlock after UF started the period with a three-and-out. McGinnis added field goals of 42 (in the third period) and a 50-yarder (early in the fourth) to stretch the the lead in their quest to break their 30-game losing streak in the series.
Johnson hit tight C.J. Conrad for a 23-yard touchdown strike on the Wildcats' first possesion of the third period and after a second straight three-and-out by the UF offense, UK drove 41 yards for a 42-yard McGinnis field goal and two-possession advantage. After that second three-and-out, UF coach Jim McElwain benched Franks in favor of fourth-year junior Luke Del Rio, who threw for 320 yards and four TDs in a win over Kentucky at Gainesville last year.
Del Rio's third pass, however, was intercepted and the Cats used the turnover and the short field to work for McGinnis' 50-yarder and the 13-point lead.
The Gators, though, answered by going 80 yards in seven plays, with the big hitter coming on the first play of the drive when Kadarius Toney, who earlier had a 36-yard touchdown run, took an end-around pitch and heaved a 50-yard completion to Tyrie Cleveland to the UK 30. Six plays later, Powell took a direct snap and raced to the left pylon to draw UF within six.
Florida's 30-game winning streak in the series is the longest by one FBS program over another. Kentucky last beat the Gators on Nov. 17, 1986. The winning streak started the next season in the annual series.
The score was tied at 14-all at the time after the Kentucky defense neglected to cover wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland on a fourth-and-3 and Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks made the Wildcats pay. Franks fired a 45-yard touchdown to all-by-himself Cleveland after Florida coach Jim McElwain rolled the dice on a fourth-down gamble that paid off late in the second period. The play came out of a timeout and UK's defense sent no one out to shadow Cleveland, who was lined up wide to the right. Cleveland caught the ball and outraced a couple defenders to the end zone with 3:16 left in the half.
Kentucky had a chance to take the lead just before intermission, thanks to a couple personal fouls against the UF defense, including a targeting call on lineback Vosean Joseph that, by rule, resulted in his ejection. But back-to-back sacks by UF defensive end Cece Jefferson forced the Wildcats to settle for a 45-yard field-goal attempt from Austin McGinnis. The kick hit the right upright and bounced away with 43 seconds to play in the half.
Johnson's second touchdown pass of the game, a 9-yarder to wide receiver Garrett Johnson, put the Wildcats up 14-7 on the previous possession. The Johnson-to-Johnson hook came after the Gators, forced to punt from their own 3, got a 54-yard return by Charles Walker to the UF 10. Two plays later, Johnson dropped a perfectly thrown fade over UF defensive back Duke Dawson in the right corner of the end zone with 7:24 to play in the first half.
UK's go-ahead drive came two possessions after Toney took a snap from center and dashed through the Kentucky defense for a 36-yard touchdown. Toney, the true freshman from Eight Mile, Ala., lined up in the "wildcat" formation against the Wildcats on UF's third possession of the game -- and just the second play of the second quarter. Toney went right, slipped through the first line of defense, cut outside and scored untouched for his first career TD.
The play marked UF's first rushing touchdown since the Georgia game last season, a run of nine games.
Kentucky took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter when Johnson hit wideout Blake Bone for a 14-yard touchdown pass. The Wildcats went 75 yards in eight plays on their second possession of the game, with running back Bennie Snell breaking off a pair of 12-yard runs to key the drive. On the scoring play, UF linebacker Vosean Josephbit on a pump fake inside, allowing Bone to break free toward the back of the end zone. The throw was perfect for the early lead at the 5:06 mark.