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UK steps out of mediocrity with historic win

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FB 09_10 UK_UL WEB TeamCoyle 123.jpgRich Brooks, you may have just earned yourself a street name in Lexington.

No matter how many analogies you chose to use - climbing the Southeastern Conference mountain, ladder, food chain, etc. - you put all the season's chips in games like Saturday's. You said the season's success would hinge on opponents like Georgia, a team that has long withstood the test of time and fortune to stand in your way of competing in the SEC.

Saturday night, Rich, with a 34-27 come-from-behind win, you came out gold. Saturday, in a place your team hasn't won since 1977, your team turned the corner. With your longtime help and dedication, the Kentucky football program has torn down the barriers of mediocrity.

The Kentucky Wildcats have made the next step.

In all honesty, some, including some parts of this writer, aren't even sure how you did it.

When people called for your head early in your probation-riddled tenure (which wasn't your fault), you held your head high, put some earmuffs on and went to work. When you lost your foundation of seniors last year and were supposed to rebuild, you said, "the heck with it," went to a third straight bowl and won it anyway. When you lost your best defensive lineman, Jeremy Jarmon, in the offseason, saw your best defensive player, Trevard Lindley, go down four games with an ankle injury and lost your starting quarterback, Mike Hartline, for most of the season, you regrouped and reloaded.

And when the chorus of critics gave you no chance this year after your team took back-to-back lashings against Florida and Alabama, and then a gigantic letdown to Mississippi State, you not only picked the ladder back up, you catapulted the Cats past the original resting place and on the verge of taking the second step in the SEC East.

Yes, with one very big game to go, the Cats have an opportunity to finish second in the SEC East for the first time since the league was split into divisions in 1992.

Who in their right minds would have thought that given the current state and power of the SEC? Please, don't all raise your hands at once.

But I guess doubt is what makes your team and you run, Rich. When everything seems to point to the contrary, your Cats inexplicably do the unthinkable and remind us again of why this program is the greatest UK sports story of this decade.

Saturday's game, quite arguably as big as the Georgia win in 2006 when this current historic run seemed to start, was another illustration of what this team has been all about for the last four years.

Trailing 20-6 with just 66 yards of offense at halftime, the Cats were left for dead. They were road kill scraped to the shoulder.

Then Georgia fumbled the opening kickoff to start the second half, and two plays later, Randall Cobb dashed into the end zone from 12 yards out to cut the score to 20-13.

Just like that, game on.

The teams traded blows for much of the second half, but the tide seemed to turn on a play that fans have screamed at, criticized and yelled at their television screens in anger for most of the season. Yes, that screen pass actually worked.

Joker Phillips drew up a screen pass on second-and-21 in the fourth quarter, and boy, did it change the game. Morgan Newton dumped it off to Derrick Locke in the backfield, and once he turned the corner near the left sideline, it was green pastures, a new ballgame and new dreams.

Then, just a few plays later, 80,000-plus jaws in Sanford Stadium dropped harder than a 1,000-pound bag of bricks. Joe Cox's errant screen pass was picked off by Shane McCord on a key third down, setting up UK inside the 10.

The Cats converted three plays later, taking the lead for the first time since leading 6-0 in the first. The touchdown capped a 28-7 run to retake the lead. Remember, this was in Athens of all places, yet another city that has traditionally strangled UK into mediocrity or worse.

But Saturday night, the longtime nightmares of the UK football program might have been buried for good. This was the type of victory that could sling the Cats next year into the upper echelon.

Heck, the momentum might be so big that UK could be - gasp! - the favorite next week to end the nation's longest losing streak next week.

If the Cats didn't seal the game on a Georgia fumble on the UK 1-yard line on third-and-goal, then they surely slammed the door shut with a Sam "the interception man" Maxwell. The senior linebacker recorded his team-leading sixth interception of the season, setting UK up for a prominent - maybe even a New Year's Day - bowl. (Maxell, a three-year backup, has been the perfect example of the type of overlooked, underrated players that have built this program from the ground up.)

Rich, we know you want to go even farther, do bigger and better things. Four losses is probably four losses too many for you. But, just think if that Mississippi State game would have never have happened.

But that's neither here nor there. You've now accomplished something that just about no one in school history could do.

Yes, Rich, we saw you on the sideline late in the fourth quarter when the camera zoomed in on you and waited for you to show some emotion. It looked painful. You were trying so hard to hold your emotions back, but there was nothing hiding that smile inside your heart that could stretch from Athens back here to Lexington.

Finally, after the game, we saw you let loose. Yes, Rich, it's OK. Celebrate. Live it up. You've done something special at UK. You've done what you set out to do when you came to Kentucky.

You've taken the program to the next level.

Rich Brooks Way? Yeah, I think you've earned it.

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"Rich Brooks Way? Yeah, I think you've earned it."

You got that right! Great article! Great win! Huge accomplishment by this team and the coaching staff. We have ourselves a legitimate SEC football team. How 'bout that!

We have to bury the demons once and for all next week. Loss to UT puts us right back on our butts and keeps that ugly streak intact. This team has to stay hungry!

How are you going to name a street PaPaw? People would expect to see some pawpaw trees and I've not seen a single one in Lexington.

Yes a great win and I was there to see it all. Thanks Rich and to all the hard working members of this team. You have fought and scratched all the way this year. The last time you won in Athens I was a 22 year old soldier in Frankfort Germany. I have waited a long time for this type of win (was also at auburn and all the other games this year). Went to my first UK game at stoll field in 1964 with my dad. I have never been more excited about UK Football.

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  • Bob Hobdy: Yes a great win and I was there to see it all. Thanks Rich and to all the hard working read more
  • JimHarris: How are you going to name a street PaPaw? People would expect to see some pawpaw trees and I've not read more
  • Justin: "Rich Brooks Way? Yeah, I think you've earned it." You got that right! Great article! Great win! Huge accomplishment by read more