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Kentucky over UT: Roark plays unlikely hero to perfection

November 27th, 2011 7:15 am by Trey Williams

Kentucky over UT: Roark plays unlikely hero to perfection

Kentucky’s ridiculously long losing streak to Tennessee ended amid similarly absurd circumstances Saturday in Lexington.

Tim Couch couldn’t beat the Volunteers. Neither could Jared Lorenzen, Andre’ Woodson, Shane Boyd or Billy Jack Haskins.

Nope, the Kentucky quarterback who stopped The Streak was a receiver.

Couch was the No. 1 overall NFL draft pick in 1999. Lorenzen, Woodson and Boyd also reached the NFL.

The last time Matt Roark played quarterback before engineering Kentucky’s first victory against Tennessee since 1984 was when he was at North Cobb High School (Ga.). He was coached there by former Tennessee quarterback Tee Martin, who was Roark’s position coach at Kentucky the past two seasons — until Tuesday, that is.

That’s when another former Vol, Kentucky offensive coordinator Randy Sanders, began integrating Roark into a package of plays because he didn’t anticipate injured quarterbacks Maxwell Smith and Morgan Newton being available.

The 6-foot-5 Roark only completed 4-of-6 passes for 15 yards. But he threw two less interceptions than counterpart Tyler Bray and navigated a one-dimensional attack for 124 of Kentucky’s 202 rushing yards, which gave the Wildcats defense enough rest to hold up for a 10-7 victory.

Kentucky fans were ecstatic, and Roark floated off the field on a blue sea of humanity.

“I never expected to do anything like that,” he said. “Not the part of beating Tennessee, but the me-quarterbacking part. … They told me last Sunday after the game. I figured it was going to be maybe one or two series, and maybe some key plays during the game.

“On Monday I was like, ‘This is for real.’ On Tuesday, we were at the meetings, and I was still thinking I was just going to do wildcat plays. Then coach told me I was going to be the quarterback and I was excited.”

Roark’s most important run was a 26-yard dash around the left end to the Tennessee 7-yard line that converted a 3rd-and-12 on the final play of the third quarter.

It appeared the Vols might have recovered a fumble on the play, but when replay didn’t convince officials, you figured fate finally might have decided to have mercy on Kentucky (2-6, 5-7).

CoShik Williams’ 6-yard touchdown gave the Wildcats a 10-0 lead two plays later, which was too deep a hole for a sputtering UT offense. In addition to the usually fruitless running game, the Vols’ offense was hampered by an erratic Bray throwing passes all over the horizon. Several accurate passes were dropped, too.

Bray did, however, immediately answer Williams’ score when he threw a long spiral in stride to Rajion Neal for a 53-yard TD with 12:52 left in the game, and UT’s defense forced three more punts.

But Bray and company didn’t come close to a game-tying field goal attempt — it might have been just as well the way Michael Palardy’s been kicking — while par- laying the season’s final three possessions into one first down, two sacks and one interception.

Bray had already been intercepted once and had a potential third one dropped. The Vols also turned it over on 2nd-and-goal at the 7 when threatening to take a 7-3 lead with four minutes left in the third quarter. Neal, who was lined up in the wildcat, let the snap go through his hands.

Roark’s Cats didn’t commit any turnovers.

“We thought they might come out in a wildcat but didn’t know it was going to be the whole game,” said UT coach Derek Dooley, whose Vols (1-7, 5-7) finished last in the SEC East. “So we had to sit there and basically play Wing T football (or single wing). We had two drives that we probably shouldn’t have given up. They had 217 yards on offense.

“We were 4 of 15 on third down and we only had 61 rushing yards. We’re just not very good, and I’ve been saying that all year.”

But with a bowl bid at stake, they should’ve been good enough to beat what must have been one of the two or three weakest Kentucky teams in the past 27 years, certainly when considering the Wildcats didn’t have a quarterback.

“If we lined up the last 26 years — how many quarterbacks have we had, probably 15? — who would pick out Matt Roark as the guy who broke the streak,” said Kentucky second-year coach Joker Phillips, who was a senior receiver on the last UK team to beat Tennessee. “This is truly a dream come true for me to allow these seniors to go out this way.”

And a nightmare Dooley and his staff will be reminded of throughout the bowl season.

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