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Ryan Clark: The Wildcat’s are playing to the level of their competition — and that’s not a bad thing

Everyone will say they were there.

Someday, when we’re still retelling the story of how Josh Paschal blocked a field goal, and Trevin Wallace ran it back for a touchdown, and the defense stopped Florida eight times on the last possession of the game…

Every fan will claim they were there, at Kroger Field, the night the Wildcats defeated Florida 20-13. The stats folks say — officially — it was 61,632 fans in the stands that night, but I bet several hundred thousand more will claim it.

Ryan Clark has been writing sports stories and books for 20 years. After graduating from Western Kentucky University and the University of Kentucky, he went on to write for The Clarion-Ledger, The Cincinnati Enquirer, Kentucky Sports Radio, WCPO.com, Saturday Down South and ESPN.com, among others. He’s covered Kentucky Wildcats basketball, Ohio State football and the Cincinnati Bengals for various outlets. He is the author or co-author of seven books, including the local bestseller 100 Things Wildcats Fans Must Know & Do Before They Die.

“I’d like to start by saying thank you to the BBN,” coach Mark Stoops said. “That’s for you. They really showed up in a big, big way today and had an impact on the game. They affected the football game in a very positive way. I really can’t thank you enough. Really happy for our players, our fan base, our coaches. Once again, just a great, great team effort. It was beautiful in so many ways. Just shows the character of this football team and the resiliency they have, the toughness.”

It was that kind of amazing night.

I will admit that I was looking for ways for UK to lose. It wasn’t difficult. With a sputtering offense and a mixed extra point, the cracks were there — Florida just had to run through them. But there was still the very big problem of Kentucky’s defense, which has grown up in a hurry. The Gators could not do much against this latest version of very talented Kentucky defensive players.

Eight times they had a chance to score and tie the game, and eight times they were turned away. It will all become the stuff of legend, just like the exact number of how many fans were actually there. And when it was over, those fans spilled onto the field, dancing, hugging and jumping up and down.

It really was a party — and it cost UK $250,000 in fines. (Worth every penny, by the way.)

But I think we learned one other very important thing about this UK Wildcat football team: They play to the level of their competition. And in the SEC, this is not necessarily a bad thing.

Look at UK’s first five games — four of which could’ve easily gone the other way.

But the Wildcats continued to win, even if it was sometimes by the slimmest of margins, and against foes they should have beaten handily. Many say beauty does not matter when it comes to wins, and I agree. It does not. What does matter is winning all the games you play.

And Kentucky has an advantage — that being the strange gumption to rise to the level of their opponents. And believe me, in a conference like the SEC, you need all of that gumption you can get. Now that some of the mediocre games are over, the remainder of UK’s schedule is more than competitive.

It looks like this: LSU, at No. 2 Georgia, at Mississippi State, Tennessee, at Vanderbilt, New Mexico State and at Louisville. While there’s only one ranked opponent, the majority of the rest of the teams are big-names and rivals who are still very talented.

It shouldn’t be difficult for Kentucky to get hyped for those games, and to follow through if they continue playing to the level of the competition. If they can continue to do that, they will put together another unforgettable season — one that could see them reach new heights under Stoops.

And there will be more moments where fans pack the stadium and dance in their seats and thousands and thousands will end up saying, ‘I was there.’

“Ten out of 10. That’s the craziest game I’ve played in. All my life,” Paschal told the media afterward.

“Awesome, can’t thank the fans enough for coming out, supporting and just being the people that they are, bringing the energy and changing the game,” quarterback Will Levis said. “Happy for the team, really happy for our defense for pulling it out, and happy for Big Blue Nation. This is one of the bigger wins they have been able to see in a couple decades, I think. I’m glad to have been a part of it…”

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