Unlikely hero Roark ends streak for UK

By Cody Porter

Another season has passed and UK fans exited Commonwealth Stadium hearing Tennessee’s band perform “Rocky Top.”

“Rocky top, you’ll always be home sweet home to me. Good ole …”

Wait, actually no they didn’t.

The time warp that UK has been in for the past 26 years is over after a 10-7 victory over the Volunteers.

Not only did the Cats finally end the streak, but they did so in the most unlikely of years.

After struggling all season long and fighting the injury bug, the Cats entered Commonwealth Stadium Saturday with a new name atop the quarterback depth chart.

Matt Roark, the wide receiver who at one time was benched for his inability to catch a pass, then the same receiver who dropped jaws when he had consecutive 100-yard receiving efforts, went under center for the Cats after the game kicked off against UK’s big orange foe from the south.

Once the Cats’ defense forced Tennessee to punt on their opening drive, Roark took the field and ran the ball over and over, along with junior running back CoShik Williams.

Roark also had a 15-yard pass to senior tight end Nick Melillo on the drive that would account for all of his passing yards on the day.

That possession would lead to the Cats capturing a 3-0 lead and they never looked back.

It wasn’t until after the half that Roark would showcase his abilities with the ball in his hands.

The senior would go on to gain 84 more yards in the second half, a few of which were key first downs for the Cats, and finish with 124 yards on 24 carries.

Not only could the fans and Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley not fathom how the game played out, but Roark couldn’t either.

“I never expected to do anything like that,” Roark said. “Not the part of beating Tennessee, but the me quarterbacking part. It was good. I felt really comfortable out there.”

It wasn’t until Tuesday that Roark learned he would be the full-time quarterback and he actually began practicing in the scheme prepared for him against Tennessee.

“How many — if we lined up the last 26 years — how many quarterbacks have we had, probably 15?  Who would pick out Matt Roark as the guy who broke the streak?” UK head coach Joker Phillips asked after the game.

Phillips had a point with that comment. Think of the names over the years that have been unable to knock off Tennessee.

Mike Hartline, Randall Cobb, Andre Woodson, Jared Lorenzen, Dusty Bonner and Tim Couch.

Movies can’t script material this good and the connection to wide receivers coach Tee Martin is just a bonus.

“He looked like he did in high school, that’s exactly what he looked like,” said Phillips.

This is something that Tee Martin was all too familiar with after having coached the senior at North Cobb High School in Acworth, Ga.

“I was probably the only one on the offensive staff that knew what to expect,” Martin said after Saturday’s victory. “I’ve seen the guy, we went undefeated together, I knew what he would do, so I’m just happy for him.”

Following the sounding of the final horn, the field was painted blue by the storming UK fans.

As they danced and cheered with their team, Saturday’s unlikely hero, Matt Roark, was hoisted into the air, squeezing an orange in his palm.