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September 29, 2013Ten yards from paydirt, Joe Mansour could tell he'd make it.
The Kentucky kicker was about 30 feet from finding the end zone and turning a perfectly executed fake field goal into a 25-yard touchdown run, when he realized he was going get there. And he did.
"It felt unreal," Mansour said. "Definitely I heard the crowd and everybody piling on me/stepping on my toes. I didn't appreciate that. It was great. It was loud, and that extra point after was awesome."
Mansour's heroics - he took a perfect over-the-shoulder pitch from holder Jared Leet and scampered 25 yards to the score - drew Kentucky and Florida even late in the first quarter of Saturday night's 24-7 Gators win at Commonwealth Stadium.
"We executed it perfectly," Mansour said. "After that, things didn't go as planned, but I'm sure we'll get back on track."
Mansour's score was the Wildcats' primary highlight, a play Kentucky worked on all week, coach Mark Stoops said, because film study of the Gators had suggested it would work.
Leet's pitch set it up. Mansour's speed finished it off.
"Mansour is pretty fast," wide receiver Ryan Timmons said. "That's probably a secret you guys didn't know, but he's a very fast kid on our team."
The Cats had executed it perfectly in practice, Mansour said. He had little question it could work in the game. But he scarcely could speak from experience when it came to executing touchdown plays.
"I think I had one in the eighth grade, middle school football," he said. "I was the tight end. So it's been a while."
Running back Jojo Kemp took his first carry 11 yards. It came on Kentucky's second play of the game.
He didn't receive another touch until the beginning of the third quarter -- that one went for zero yards -- and then received his third and final carry, good for eight yards, on UK's final drive.
Why the wait was so long, especially in a game in which coach Mark Stoops and offensive coordinator Neal Brown had previously tabbed the freshman for an expanded role, went unexplained.
"I'm not sure, to be honest with you," Stoops said. "We got guys coming and going so much, really didn't pay attention to that until I get to the film."
Brown said position coach Chad Scott "kind of handles his running backs" rotation.
"I didn't even look at what the carries were," Brown said. "I thought, you know, he had that one, I think the ball got loose. I don't know if it was a ball security issue. I don't know. Haven't talked to either one of those (guys)."
Kemp said it wasn't a matter of whether he was available.
"No, I wasn't hurt at all," Kemp said. "My coach said that I wasn't in the play call. So, I was just on the sidelines. Whenever it was my time or my turn to get in there I'd go rock and roll."
Although Kemp said he's not "the type of guy" to hang his head from getting limited chances, he admitted it was a bit disappointing, especially after two weeks of coaches tabbing him for an increased role.
"I mean, yeah, just a little bit," Kemp said. "It's part of the game. I still have faith in my coaches."
Former Kentucky basketball coach Tubby Smith was among six new members of the UK Athletics Hall of Fame honored during Saturday's game, and he drew a loud ovation from the crowd, followed by chants of "TUB-BY! TUB-BY!"
He wasn't the only former UK head coach who got a warm greeting.
Florida wide receivers coach Joker Phillips, fired after last season as the Wildcats' head football coach, shook hands with familiar faces before the game and met with many of his former UK players on the field after it.
"All the players from last year who were here with him, I think all of them stopped by and spoke to him," said defensive end Bud Dupree, who was among them. "It's a good feeling to see Coach Joker."
Stoops also made his way to Phillips.
"Joker has done a lot for this program, worked very hard for this program for a long time," Stoops said. "I think most people have a lot of respect for what Joker has done, the person, the player, the coach he's been for this university. I'm glad to see that. We're disappointed in a loss. But I went over and said hi to him, as well, congratulations. He's done a lot for this program."
Another year, another Florida victory over Kentucky. It's now 27 in a row, for those counting.
The Wildcats haven't defeated the Gators since 1986, and while UK played Florida closer than any meeting since 2007 it'll have to wait until 2014 to snap the nation's longest losing streak.
"It's always bad to have another team keep beating you like that every year and every year," defensive end Bud Dupree said. "Hopefully the next time we play them we can break the streak."
Since the streak started in 1987, Florida has outscored UK 1,124 to 432. For seniors who have been at UK since 2010, the Gators have defeated UK on average 39.5 to 7.75.
Senior running back Raymond Sanders will never be able to say he defeated Florida as a player. Sanders said he never likes losing but this year hurts more than years past because he was confident the Cats could end the streak.
"It's disappointing because we felt we could definitely beat those guys, we practiced well and we prepared well," Sanders said.
But it appears UK is closing the gap. After getting blanked 38-0 in 2012, UK bounced back and had several chances to make it a one-possession game in the fourth quarter on Saturday.
If the Cats continue to close the gap, Sanders said the streak will be no more.
"It's definitely a possibility real soon," Sanders said. "With those freshman and those guys staying next year, and those guys coming in, like I said, we're all improving, they're improving and they just going to bring guys along with them and I think the streak can end pretty soon."
The Cats currently have the No.7 recruiting class in the 2014 Rivals team rankings, while Florida is No.17.
And with the Cats having their chances against Florida Saturday, and Louisville two weeks ago, UK's program is seemingly heading in the right direction.
"It just shows how we're improving as a program," Sanders said. "You can see the change, you can see guys playing their hearts out and we just have to keep going through with that."