November 28, 2011

Seniors end career with historic win over Tennessee

Up until their final season, the 2011 University of Kentucky senior class were streak makers.

In their first three years they beat rival Louisville every season and continued the bowl streak up until their senior season. But the downside was they prolonged the infamous Florida and Tennessee streaks.

But after their senior season, for better and for worse, they will be known as streak breakers.

In their final year as Wildcats, their season didn't go as planned or hoped. UK lost to Louisville for the first time since 2006 and their loss at Georgia on Nov. 19 ended Kentucky's streak of five consecutive bowl games.

"Nobody is happy with the way the season (went)-especially us, because of all the hard work and long hours that we've put in it," head coach Joker Phillips said.

But the seniors broke what was arguably Kentucky's biggest streak in their final collegiate game. Roark led the seniors against rival Tennessee at quarterback. The senior was told Tuesday he'd be under center but thanks to the leadership of the other veterans, the team remained calm and focused.

"I'm happy for Matt," offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said. "I'm happy for him to go out having achieved what he achieved today. But I'm just as happy for Stuart Hines, Billy Joe Murphy, Chandler Burden, Nick Melillo, all those guys."

Roark's unforgettable performance was aided by a stout defense. The Cats held Tennessee to seven points, its lowest total against UK since 1976.

The defense made life tough on the Vols all game, forcing three turnovers and six three-and-outs.

"The defense did a great job of stopping the run, you can't stop the run," Phillips said. "I always talk about how demoralizing that is. Once you get them into the long-down distance you make it uncomfortable, and that's what they did."

Leading UK's defense all season was senior Danny Trevathan, who will go down as one of the best defensive players in Kentucky football history. He ended his career 10th on the all-time in school tackle list with 374.

Trevathan played in every game he suited up for the Wildcats, going back to his special team days his freshman season. He considered the win against Tennessee the most memorable moment he had at UK.

"I heard about that for a long time and it started getting on my nerves," he said. "I feel good about the way it ended. I'm sad (my career is over) but I'm going to hold tight and keep working tight until the next level. But God bless this whole university and I'm going to miss it."

Trevathan was the captain and the leader of the defense. But it wasn't until fellow senior Taiedo Smith made a game-clinching interception that the outcome was assured.

Smith, who was making his first start of the season, has played sparingly. It was a senior season that had been lacking in highlights for him - until the final moments.

"I was overwhelmed," Smith said. "To end my career on that note was a blessing. I didn't play a lot this year, I got really these last two starts and to get that pick was really overwhelming."

UK said goodbye to 21 seniors on Saturday that combined to go 25-26 in the last four years. Despite being the first senior class to have a losing record since the 2007 seniors departed, Phillips believes this class was extremely close to one another.

He started a tradition last season where he allowed the seniors to stand up and talk to the rest of the team about what UK football means to them on the night before the final game. Every player received one minute to speak and Phillips said this senior class called everyone their brothers.

"At the end, I asked their brothers if they were willing to fight, scratch, and claw to give their big brothers the memory of a lifetime," Phillips said.

He was pleased with the answer.

"I think this group is close knit and every guy that stood up said, 'You are my brothers'," he said. "And I think that's part of (the reason this senior class beat UT)."

Though many of the seniors said they will never forget the win over Tennessee, they were more concerned about wanting to help UK's future. They wanted to build UK into a better program than they left it.

"We've done a lot, we've been to three bowl games and help build the program," Roark said. "We helped recruit, we helped make our program look how coach Joker wanted it to look. We bought into what he said and did what he told us to and that has helped the program. They will be able to compete in the SEC (in the future)."

Saturday's game was emotional for the players even before the win. Most entered the day knowing they would never play football again.

"Many of them will not pick up a football again," Phillips said. "It's 365 days a year that you have to be training, be into that mentality. If you've ever played, you get emotional when you talk about somebody playing their last game."

In 2008 Roark told that after he committed to UK he called Phillips to tell him the news, and in the background he heard Phillip's wife cheering in the background. Roark's career, along with 20 of his teammates', is now over.

But despite the ups-and-downs, they've given the UK faithful something that they will be able to cheer and reminisce the rest of their lives.

A broken streak.

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