Admit it! After Mississippi State scored to go up by one with just over a minute to go in the ballgame, you thought our goose was cooked. Don’t feel bad because almost everyone familiar with the rancid history of Kentucky Football thought the very same thing. Fortunately for Big Blue Nation, Austin MacGinnis’ 51-yard kick nestled gently through the uprights as time expired to give Kentucky a thrilling 40-38 win. The improbable victory was not only a “must-win” for the team but perhaps a “program changing win” for the current coaching regime.
I don’t think I ever remember a football season with so many legitimate “must-win” games. Ever since Kentucky choked away the Shannon Dawson homecoming to begin the year, the Cats have been chasing their tails in hopes of salvaging a season with bowl eligibility. So, when on this chilly autumn evening, the Mississippi State Bulldogs came rolling into Commonwealth Stadium hoping to steal a victory, kill Kentucky’s bowl chances and effectively end UK’s season, the Cats didn’t flinch. The fear was that with the 1976 Peach Bowl Champs, Tim Tebow and the Bobby Perry Band looking on, another devastating loss would have sent all the many fickle football fans over the edge, looking for ways to conveniently abandon ship.
Not me—I was sticking with the Cats through thick or thin and tonight in Commonwealth Stadium, the rewards of loyalty were thick and abundant. The atmosphere was electric as “blacked-out” UK fans—many having spent the day earlier at Keeneland—experienced the elation of a rare UK game winning drive. Big plays including a Marcus McWilson 45-yard interception return, a Benny Snell 34-yard touchdown run and two long Stephen Johnson-to-Jeff Badet touchdown passes helped Kentucky and their shiny chrome helmets snap a seven-game losing streak to Dan Mullen’s Bulldogs. On a night that began with both the UK quarterback having trouble hitting open receivers and with open receivers having trouble catching the football, Kentucky’s offense finally found its groove in the second half—putting enough points on the board to survive a potentially disastrous Bulldog 4th quarter scoop and score. Kentucky thus improves its record to 4-3 and currently sits in second place in the SEC eastern division.
I’ve said all along that a good dose of confidence and momentum are what this team needs. With this win, they have an abundance of both and much of the credit for the turnaround should go to the coaching staff. Just last month, “For Sale” signs were being crafted for Mark Stoop’s front yard and the internet was abuzz with rumors of his impending demise. But just as another famous Mark once said, the rumors of this demise have been greatly exaggerated. Heading into the Missouri game, the Cats are on the cusp of real bowl eligibility and a win against the Tigers will essentially seal the deal. However, remember that SEC road wins have been few and far between, so don’t bet the farm just yet. I’m savoring the victory tonight for just a little bit longer. At the very least, the upcoming road trip to Columbia just got a whole lot shorter.
This blog posting was originally submitted as a UK Football Column for Nolan Group Media publications.
Be sure to follow me at www.huangswhinings.com and on twitter@KYHuangs as I cover the Wildcats this Saturday on the road at Missouri.