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All-purpose Gator delivers

Keiwan Ratliff holds off the Wildcats, turning two interceptions into 8 points.

By JILL MARTIN
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 29, 2002


photo
[Times photo: Brendan Fitterer]
Keiwan Ratliff runs an interception 62 yards for a fourth-quarter touchdown.
GAINESVILLE -- Keiwan Ratliff is a busy man.

Coach Ron Zook has given the junior from Columbus, Ohio, several jobs. He has handled punt returns. At the beginning of the season, he handled kickoff returns. He lined up for a few plays at wide receiver during Saturday's game against Kentucky.

But the Gators first felt his presence at his original position: cornerback.

With 9:25 left in the fourth and the score 32-28, Florida needed a game-turning play.

Ratliff delivered. He picked off a Jared Lorenzen pass, catching the ball on his fingertips. He ran a few yards juggling the ball but held on 62 yards for the score.

"When Keiwan gets a shot to go, he's going to go," Zook said.

Ratliff said that play felt like it was in slow motion once it hit his hands.

"When I tipped it, it laid in the air for a while," he said. "(Lorenzen) threw that ball real hard. I was just fortunate enough to get my hands on it and haul it in. I just wanted to stay as close to the ball as I could. I wanted to make sure I secured the ball before I ran with it."

Though the play gave the Gators a comfortable lead, Kentucky did not quit. Derek Abney scored on a 49-yard punt return to cut the lead to five with 5:24 left in the fourth.

The Wildcats attempted a two-point conversion to pull within a field goal, but the Gators got a break.

Ratliff was waiting in the end zone, in the middle of Lorenzen's pass route. He ran back an interception for two to put Florida ahead 41-34.

Kentucky never threatened again.

"I just happened to break on the ball right when he was throwing it," Ratliff said. "It was really nothing but grass in front of me because all the receivers seemed like they were running drag routes to the other side of the field. Any time you have grass in front of you, you as an athlete feel like you can score."

Ratliff, who also returned punts, was part of a special teams unit that crumbled. Its mistakes gave the Wildcats 27 of 34 points.

Ratliff said he didn't think this was his best game. He said he was responsible for Kentucky's lone touchdown off Florida's defense.

But the defense had 32 yards to work with after Florida punter Sean Morton fumbled on a fourth and 11.

Kentucky regained the ball on downs at Florida's 32 and scored in three plays to pull within 19-7.

The defense did not allow another score.

"The defense did a great job," Zook said. "They were leading the SEC in offense and we held them to 268 (all-purpose) yards, which was very respectable."

Though Ratliff said he has much to work on, his two long runs will rank among his personal best.

"Any time you get your hands on it it's an individual top (play)," Ratliff said. "I just was blessed enough today to return those for touchdowns. Any time you get in the end zone you can say that's one of the best plays you ever made."

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