UK’s run of five consecutive bowl games officially comes to an end on Saturday, when the Cats face Tennessee on Senior Day at Commonwealth Stadium. At best, the Cats would finish 5-7. While fans, coaches and players all say the season has been a downer, one Wildcat sees a happy ending to an otherwise disappointing year.
UK wide receiver Matt Roark is one of 21 seniors who will play his final game at Commonwealth Stadium this weekend. He’ll be joined on the field in pregame ceremonies by his mom and dad. Having his father there, Roark said, will be one of the great joys in his life.
That’s because for most of his life, Roark didn’t know Ray Gover.
In a bittersweet twist of fate, Roark and Gover were brought together by Kentucky football.
Ironically, Gover was a wide receiver and defensive back for the Cats in from 1985-88. It wasn’t until Joker Phillips began recruiting Roark out of Acworth, Ga. that father and son developed a relationship.
“If it wasn’t for Kentucky football, I probably wouldn’t even know him,” Roark said.
Roark said Gover “comes to all the games.” Which means his father has seen Roark develop into one of UK’s best receivers.
“It’s going to be great,” Roark said. “It’s been amazing, a dream come true.”
“I never really knew my dad until I got out of high school. It’s going to be a good experience and a great day.”
Roark said beating Tennessee on Saturday won’t erase the disappointment of this season, but it will give the Wildcats a good feeling, especially the seniors, knowing they ended a 26-game losing streak to the Vols.
“We’ll go down as the team to beat Tennessee after all these years,” Roark said on Tuesday.
When the year began, Roark, along with a handful of other receivers, was being counted upon to fill the void left by the departure of playmakers Randall Cobb and Chris Matthews. Through the early part of the season, there was grumbling, from fans and coaches, about the number of dropped passes, missed opportunities and lack of production from the receivers.
In his last four games, Roark has become the “go-to” guy. His 24 catches over that time is a team-high, including a season-high 13 receptions against Mississippi State, for 116 yards.
It’s surprised even Roark, who at one point, slid down the depth chart, before fighting his way back to being a starter.
“It surprised me after how I performed the first part of the season,” Roark said. “I always expected to become ‘that guy.’ It was demoralizing.”
“I should have been doing that the whole year,” he added. “I just wasn’t focused enough to do it.”
That he’s finishing his career on an uptick pleases Roark and the UK coaches.
And presumably his father.
As for a last hurrah, Roark has a dream scenario for the Tennessee game.
“I want to catch the game-winning touchdown, with no time on the clock, and then punt the ball into the stands,” he said.
We’ll find out Saturday if that happens. But already, one of Roark’s biggest dreams has come true.
Those are the highlights… Stay tuned.