(25) Florida 24

(3-2, 1-1 SEC)

Kentucky 21

(2-3, 0-2 SEC)

Coverage: GamePlan

12:30 PM ET, September 27, 2003

Commonwealth Stadium, Lexington, KY

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Leak wins his first career start

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) -- Even Florida's wins aren't coming easy these days.

Johnny Lamar's 35-yard interception return set up Ron Carthon's 1-yard touchdown run with 3:15 remaining as the No. 25 Gators rallied from an 18-point deficit to beat Kentucky 24-21.

Chris Leak

Florida QB Chris Leak seemingly never gets rattled.

Florida, which beat Kentucky by scores like 73-17 and 65-0 under former coach Steve Spurrier, trailed the Wildcats in the third quarter last season before winning 41-34 in Ron Zook's first year as coach.

"As I told our football team, I'd rather not make it like that," Zook said. "We learned an awful lot today, though. Once again, we've said we're a team that's going to get better each game, and I think we'll continue to get better."

Trailing 21-3 after three quarters, Florida (3-2, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) scored three touchdowns in the fourth to complete the biggest road comeback in school history. Florida's largest previous road rally was from 17 points behind in a 1993 win at South Carolina.

Kentucky's Taylor Begley missed a 50-yard field-goal attempt with 44 seconds left that could have forced overtime. The Wildcats (2-3, 0-2) haven't defeated a ranked team at home since 1999 and hadn't even led Florida at halftime since 1988.

But it appeared for most of the game that they would pull off the upset. Then came the fourth quarter as the Gators beat Kentucky for the 17th straight time and avoided falling below .500 for the first time in 11 seasons.

"That's about as tough as it gets," Kentucky coach Rich Brooks said. "It was a game that I thought we did a lot of good things in and had an opportunity, obviously, to seal the deal and couldn't finish it."

Florida freshman Chris Leak, making his first career start, completed 20 of 35 passes for 268 yards and two touchdowns. Carlos Perez caught five passes for 102 yards and two touchdowns.

A Kentucky penalty on a punt kept alive Florida's first touchdown drive, and the Gators scored on the first play of the fourth quarter on a 3-yard pass from Leak to Perez. The 2-point conversion failed and the Gators still trailed 21-9.

Florida got the ball back but Leak threw his second interception of the game with 9:49 left. Kentucky's offense stalled after making one first down and Keiwan Ratliff returned a punt 25 yards to Kentucky's 28.

Then on a fourth-and-3, Leak hit Perez for a 10-yard score to make it 21-16 with 4:46 to play.

On Kentucky's next series, Channing Crowder was about to sack Jared Lorenzen when Lorenzen threw an ill-advised pass that Lamar intercepted and returned to the 1 to set up Carthon's winning score.

"I was very surprised he threw it out of there," Lamar said of Lorenzen. "If anything, I thought he would try to throw it out of bounds, which he was probably trying to do, but he got spun around. I don't know why he just didn't take the sack."

Leak's pass to Kelvin Kight on the 2-point conversion made it 24-21.

Lorenzen completed 18 of 27 passes for 179 yards and threw two interceptions. Arliss Beach, making his first career start, carried 18 times for 47 yards and scored all three Kentucky touchdowns.

The Wildcats scored on their opening drive for the first time this season, converting three third downs before getting into the end zone on Beach's 1-yard run.

A holding penalty wiped out an 86-yard punt return for a touchdown by Derek Abney later in the first quarter, but the Wildcats went ahead 14-0 on Beach's second 1-yard score.

A 69-yard pass from Leak to Perez set up Florida's only first-half score, a 42-yard Matt Leach field goal. Besides that pass, the Gators only managed 86 yards of offense in the half.

Abney ran 42 yards on a reverse to the Florida 6 to set up Kentucky's final touchdown, a 2-yard run by Beach late in the third quarter.

"I'd be hardpressed to find (as difficult) a situation that seniors anywhere else have been through," Abney said. "We've been through so much stuff here and we just want a break."