Time to move on from the Florida win according to Stoops


Kentucky Wildcats safety Darius West (25) celebrated with Kentucky Wildcats head coach Mark Stoops after their 27-16 victory over the Florida Gators Saturday at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville. Photo provided by Alex Slitz | Lexington Herald-Leader

The 24 hours after defeating Florida might have been the most hectic but the most enjoyable post-victory celebration for head coach Mark Stoops and the Cats.

Immediately after the clock struck zero, Stoops got the traditional victory Gatorade bath from Bunchy Stallings and Tymere Dubose. The celebration on the field consisted of many hugs, congratulatory handshakes and grins.

As the party transitioned from the field to the locker room, Stoops gave his typical postgame speech he always gives after every game. After recognizing all the areas of the team that played well, Stoops decided to give the game ball to John Schlarman, who continues to battle cancer while coaching the offensive line.

“What John is going through, the way he’s handling this, the way he’s handling the adversity in his life is something that we all respect and for his players to perform the way they did and they way they cared about him just says a lot,” Stoops said. “I just know it was fitting to recognize John and I think all of our players really felt good about doing that.”

While the celebration and postgame speech was going on, Stoops’ phone was filling up with notifications at a rapid rate. Stoops said at the end of the night around 250 people reached out to him, and Stoops responded to all them.

“I think that a lot of people recognized the work that went into that, to put yourself in a position to play the way we did,” Stoops said.

When the team packed up, loaded onto the airplane and began the journey back home, many fans in Lexington continued celebrating, and eventually took that party to the airport to welcome the Cats home.

About 50 people awaited the Cats’ return in random periods of rain at 3 a.m. As late as it was, the fans remained loud when Stoops and other members of the staff came out to greet the fans at the airport.

“I certainly made a point to walk out and say hello and thank you to them and our team did as well, that meant a lot to us,” Stoops said.

As grand of a celebration as it was, and as monumental the win was for the program, Stoops knows that the team will have to forget about it at some point and start focusing on what’s next.

“We enjoyed that victory, it was a victory – it was a long time coming for our fans and out players,” Stoops said. “It was a lot of fun and I appreciate their effort. Now it’s time to put that behind us after we watch this film today and move onto the next opponent in Murray (State).”

The Racers are 0-2 on the season with double-digit losses to Southern Illinois and Central Arkansas. On paper, Murray State might look like an easy opponent, but Stoops is not taking the Racers lightly.

“Murray (State) is doing some good things, they spread the ball out and they spread you some with their splits and create some different looks and are doing a good job,” Stoops said. “They’ve got off to a tough start but they’re a good football team, well coached.”

Stoops believes the best way his team can prepare for Murray State and move past the big win over Florida is to continue worrying about themselves and focusing on what only they can control.

“I really love this group and the way they handle things and I expect them to handle it that way,” Stoops said. “Going back to worrying about us and creating our own standards and living up to them, and we’ll have a good discussion about that today.”