Updated at 1:35 a.m.
In the first three-overtime game in school history, the Florida Gators (2-0, 1-0 SEC) defeated the Kentucky Wildcats (2-1, 0-1 SEC) with a late rushing touchdown from junior running back Matt Jones serving as the deciding score in the 36-30 victory.
Jones, whose tremendous effort was a boon for the Gators throughout the evening on Saturday at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Florida, rumbled for a game-high 156 yards on a game-high 29 carries. When he crossed the goal line on his fourth-straight carry in the third overtime, Jones not only scored the game-winning touchdown but accounted for all 25 yards of Florida’s offense that drive.
Sophomore wide receiver Demarcus Robinson was an even brighter star for the Gators on Saturday, hauling in a school record-tying 15 receptions for 216 yards and two touchdowns, all game-highs.
His 15 receptions tied a record first set by Carlos Alvarez in 1969, while his 216 yards were the fourth-most ever amassed by a Florida wide receiver in a single game.
Robinson caught a 23-yard pass on the second play of the contest, ran after a catch later in the first quarter for a 51-yard gain and made a 33-yard reception off a bobbled interception by a Kentucky defensive back in the third quarter to set up a Florida’s first touchdown of the game. He then accounted for three receptions, 42 yards and a touchdown on the Gators’ next offensive drive, spotting Florida a 20-17 lead with 25 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
Entering overtime with 205 yards, Robinson converted a huge 4th and 7 for the Gators with the game on the line, catching a fade touchdown pass from redshirt junior quarterback Jeff Driskel, which was snapped just as the play clock expired.
“I was kind of expecting the ball, but I just wanted Driskel to give me a chance to make a play. … Driskel gave me a great ball,” Robinson said.
The duo looked sure to hook up on 3rd and Goal in the second overtime, but Driskel stared down an open Robinson and threw the ball a too late; Robinson dropped it and was visibly perturbed after the play.
“I did get a little frustrated because I seen I got open, so I thought he was going to see me. He looked at me, and I thought he was going to throw it to me off the bat. He hesitated a little bit. I just got a little frustrated. We’re good now,” he said with a smile.
While trying to throw the ball away early in the contest, Driskel made an untimely miscue, tossing an interception. He started 7-of-20 but completed 18 of his last 23 passes for 179 yards and three touchdowns.
“I just missed a few guys. That happens. We took a lot of shots early, shots that we could have made. Like I’ve said, I have to give those guys a chance down the field,” Driskel said. “We’ll get that corrected. Right now, I’m just really happy we came out with a win against a really good team.”
Redshirt senior kicker Frankie Velez converted 3-of-4 field goals, hitting from 35 and 22 yards before missing a 39-yard attempt with 9:02 remaining and a chance to extend UF’s lead to six points. However, he bounced back with a 20-yard conversion in the second overtime to extend the game. Redshirt sophomore K Austin Hardin got one try, a 52-yard attempt to win the game late in the fourth quarter, but shanked the ball badly.
Flipping the field with booming punts all night was senior Kyle Christy, who booted the ball six times for 292 yards with a long of 61 yards and four punts of 50 yards or more; he downed four inside Kentucky’s 20-yard line.
The Wildcats were able to find holes in the Gators’ secondary throughout the evening with Kentucky QB Patrick Towles completing 24-of-45 passes for 369 yards and three touchdowns. However, Florida was able to pick off Towles thrice on Saturday, also dropping a number of other potential interceptions in the contest.
Towles’s favorite target was wideout Garrett Johnson, who beat UF senior safety Jabari Gorman for much of his 154 yards. Two of Johnson’s six receptions went for touchdowns.
Gators junior defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. was a big reason why Towles struggled at times on Saturday. Fowler picked up six tackles including three solo and two for lost yardage. He only registered a single sack but had four quarterback hurries and a forced fumble on the evening.
Sophomore S Keanu Neal accounted for two of Florida’s three interceptions, and sophomore Brian Poole was responsible for the other. Poole and classmate Marcus Maye combined for three pass breakups, while sophomore cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III registered four on his own.
The Gators were 3-2 all-time in overtime games before Saturday’s game with a 2-1 record in The Swamp. Florida won its fourth-straight overtime contest dating back to 2002 and first at home since going to two overtimes against Vanderbilt in 2005.
With the victory, UF extended its winning streak against UK to 28 games, dating back to 1986. It is the longest active winning streak against an annual opponent in the nation.