The 2019 Belk Bowl just might end up being one of my all-time favorite UK Football experiences. In order to preserve those exciting memories, I’m posting the column I wrote immediately afterwards. Storybook endings always have heroes. Here are two of my favorites.
Belk Bowl Bliss! – By Dr. John Huang
Lynn Bowden, Kash Daniel, lead Kentucky to symbolic Belk Bowl victory
(Charlotte, Nc.) – Kentucky’s 37-30 victory over Virginia Tech was a heck of a drama-producing bowl game. Anyone tuning in witnessed the stuff legends are made of.
THE GOAT, THE DRIVE—whatever else you want to call it—Lynn Bowden, Jr. deserves all the accolades. He’s the GOAT (the greatest of all time). Put him immediately on the Mt. Rushmore of Wildcat Football glory. Kentucky’s all-purpose quarterback-by-default this season did what legends do. He came, he fought, and he conquered the 2019 Belk Bowl.
Bowden’s crowning achievement was punctuated by another out-of-this-world stat line: 34 carries for 233 yards and 2 touchdowns on the ground; an additional 6 of 12 passes for 73 yards through the air. And yes…there was that final game-winning 13-yard toss to Josh Ali with only 15 ticks left on the clock.
You really couldn’t write a better storybook ending. With his team trailing 30-24 and 8:25 left in the game, Bowden leads his team down the field on an epic 18-play, 85-yard, 8 minute and 10 second drive that will surely go down as one of the greatest in UK Football lore. As the precious few seconds ticked away—and as everyone and their brother was thinking he would run—Bowden surprised everyone with his perfect touch pass towards the back of the end zone.
“Y’all said I couldn’t throw,” said the Belk Bowl MVP, chiding the media afterwards.
Although the game kicked off at noon on New Year’s Eve, the fireworks had started way before that. First there was the dust-up at the Charlotte Motor Speedway between Bowden and several Hokie players. That led to the pregame scuffle where Bowden admittedly threw a punch that was caught on camera.
“It’s a lot of emotion,” Bowden confessed. “I could have hurt my team and not been out there tonight with them, so I just apologized to my program, my teammates. We respect Virginia Tech. And if I could go back, I wouldn’t do it. But it’s in the past. You know, champion.”
Champion indeed. With the victory, Kentucky (8-5) ends the year on a four-game winning streak for the first time since 1977. The Wildcats win at least eight games in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2006-07. They also earn a bowl victory in back-to-back seasons for the first time since the team won three straight from 2006-08.
If Lynn Bowden is the GOAT, then surely Kash Daniel must be the LAMB. I’m not sure I’ve seen any other UK player sacrifice personal glory for the good of the team than the Paintsville native did this past year. For whatever reasons, Kash went from highly exalted team leader to sacrificial afterthought just when Bowden’s star began its rise. It was perplexing when fans suddenly started calling him out for his supposed deficiencies on the field. “He shouldn’t be playing ahead of so and so,” the people cried out. “He’s nothing but a glorified hype man,” they mocked.
If confession is good for the soul, then Kash should be a beacon of virtue. The senior linebacker seemed to be especially critical of himself as he reflected on the end of his UK career.
“I never claimed myself to be a good player—a great player,” he admitted. “I never talked about myself when I’ve done anything good. I’ve always been critical of myself and how I can always get better. I’ve never been that athletic. I’m probably one of the least athletic dudes on this defense. I’m not that fast. Trust me, I get it. People tell me that all the time. I get it.”
Fittingly, Daniel led the defensive effort against Virginia Tech with eight tackles—proving once again that some things are more important than outright athleticism. Of course, winning teams need superstar talents like Lynn Bowden. But they also need selfless teammates like Kash Daniel.
“I want Kentucky fans just to know that I gave everything I had,” Daniel said. But if all I’m remembered as is a media clown and a hype guy, then I think I’ve failed. I just hope people think of me as a hard-working player who always gave everything he had. Played hurt, played sick, played everything.”
The GOAT has delivered, the LAMB has given his all, and KENTUCKY is Belk Bowl Champion.
Dr. John Huang is a regular columnist for Nolan Group Media. If you enjoy his writing, you can read more at www.huangswhinings.com or follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs.