Quarterback Kyle Trask welcomed back Kyle Pitts by throwing the man-child tight end a trio of touchdown passes, but it was Kadarius Toney’s 50-yard punt return just before halftime that turned momentum and awakened the sixth-ranked Gators for a run of 27 consecutive points Saturday on the way to beating the Wildcats at Spurrier/Florida Field. Trask, a Heisman Trophy front-runner, completed 21 of 27 attempts for 256 yards, no interceptions, and scoring tosses to Pitts of 56, 2 and 7 yards. Evan McPherson kicked a pair of field goals and the UF defense, after a shaky first half, forced three second-half turnovers and limited the Wildcats to just 46 total yards over the final two periods.
The Gators, winners of five straight, actually trailed 10-7 late in the first half and had been virtually dominated as far as time of possession by a Wildcats’ offense that was controlling the clock behind an effective running game that kept Trask off the field. But with just over a minute to go in the half, Kentucky was forced to punt from its end zone. Florida’s return team retreated to the left side of the field, as if the ball was headed that way, with most of the the Kentucky coverage team following.
The ball, though, was headed up the right side of the field, where Toney caught it basically unencumbered, then ran the play back for the TD that started the Florida scoring onslaught. Pitts, out the last two weeks after suffering a concussion and facial wound in the Nov. 7 win against Georgia, caught five passes for 99 yards. Offensively, the Gators were held to just 418 yards (more than 100 below their average), but the defense held the Wildcats, ranked last in the Southeastern Conference in total offense, to 221 yards, including just 62 through the air.
Make that 33 wins in the last 34 meetings in the series, but of far greater significance was the Gators’ nudging that much closer to their first SEC East Division title in four years. UF needs to win just one of its final two games to put a wrap on the title. Florida could lose both of its final two games and still get to Atlanta, if second-place Georgia, which takes on South Carolina later Saturday, loses one of its final two games, but the Gators have starry-eyed goals that go behind just a league championship and the only thing that can get them there is more victories.