LEXINGTON

The end of the third quarter was quite the celebration at Kroger Field.

University of Kentucky players jumped around on the sideline, their fans danced in the aisles, and fireworks blasting off from the stadium lit up the night as UK held a 21-10 lead over No. 9 Florida.

The only problem? There was still another quarter to play, and the Gators made sure the jubilation didn't last for much longer. In the instances where Florida couldn't stop the Cats, UK was there to finish the job.

Behind the efforts of back-up quarterback Kyle Trask -- a 6-foot-5, 240-pound junior who entered in place of injured starter Feleipe Franks -- the Gators outscored Kentucky 19-0 in the fourth quarter to claim a resounding 29-21 victory. Trask completed 9-of-13 passes for 126 yards, ran in a 4-yard touchdown and made a key option pitch on running back Lamical Perine's 8-yard TD run.

Most importantly, all of Trask's contributions came in the fourth quarter.

And, despite everything -- losing defensive lineman Phil Hoskins to a pre-game injury, losing two players to targeting-penalty ejections later in the game, and Kentucky playing with a back-up quarterback of its own -- the Cats still had a chance to win.

Trailing 22-21, Sawyer Smith led a nine-play, 58-yard drive that set UK up in Florida territory with 54 seconds to go. Chance Poore's 35-yard field goal sailed wide right.

"That ball goes in or we get that first down," Cats coach Mark Stoops lamented afterward, "then we're sitting here saying what a heck of a football game."

Instead, it became a monumental letdown for a UK team that had been celebrating not long before.

Still, as Stoops also mentioned, it wasn't all bad for the Cats.

Smith, who was making his first start for UK in place of injured starter Terry Wilson, threw for 267 yards and two touchdowns.

"We played very, very good football at times," Stoops said "In certain situations, we've got to get better and execute better. This is a game that comes down to inches.

"There's an awful lot of plays in the game. You never know which play will decide the outcome, and there's a bunch in there that would jump out at us."

However, it was Smith's three second-half interceptions that left UK fans scratching their heads.

"I thought he did some really good things," Stoops said. "There's some plays that we could do over, and there's some plays that the receivers can help him on, as well. It's just a matter of getting everyone on the same page."

Despite the defeat, and the manner in which it happened, it's still important to keep things in perspective.

Kentucky absolutely had chances to win, but the Cats were also playing the No. 9-ranked team in the country. Florida, which entered averaging a nation-best 7.5 sacks per game, were held to just one. And, there's the mere fact that UK played well enough to give itself an opportunity at victory in the first place.

Teams never want to lose, and "moral losses" somehow seem even worse, but the Cats showed they have plenty of potential for the season ahead.

"It's gonna hurt," Stoops said. "When you invest what we invest in that, it's gonna hurt, and it should hurt. It's the same whether it's a win or loss -- what can we all do better? Just be very open about that and man up, look yourself in the mirror and see the things you can do better, and build on that.

"I was proud of them and proud of the way they fought. Again, that's a good football team. That's a top-10 team."

Ultimately, the Cats came up short in a matchup they could have -- and, arguably, should have -- won. The party at Kroger Field came to a premature ending, but UK will have more opportunities to celebrate in the future.

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