On Saturday, the Wildcats played in a classic of their own, though the result didn't go in their favor.
"I know people that paid to come watch this game got their money's worth," Mark Stoops said, "because that was a good football game."
In a back-and-forth affair that featured some pregame pushing and shoving and seven lead changes -- four in the fourth quarter alone -- UK (5-7) fell to rival Louisville (9-3), 44-40. The loss left the Wildcats a win shy of bowl eligibility.
"Obviously very disappointed in the outcome of this one, disappointed for our seniors to come up short in such an important game for us," Stoops said. "I was proud of the way our team fought. I felt like our guys played with great energy, great passion and really did a lot of good things. Give them credit, give Louisville credit: They made plays when they had to to win the football game and they beat us."
The thing is, the Cats made their share of plays too.
There were the two defensive touchdowns, the first scored on a 40-yard interception return by Fred Tiller and the second on a fumble forced by Bud Dupree that fellow senior Mike Douglas scooped and carried 30 yards for a touchdown. The plays gave UK leads in the second and fourth quarter, respectively, but Kyle Bolin (21-of-31 passing for 381 yards and three touchdowns) and DeVante Parker (six catches for 180 yards and three touchdowns) were too much to handle.
There were Stanley "Boom" Williams' two touchdowns - the second giving UK a 40-37 lead with just 5:31 to go - big fourth-quarter throws by Patrick Towles after a slow start and clutch catches by Demarco Robinson and Joey Herrick. The UK offense had a shot at game-winning play on its final drive, but Gerod Holliman tied an NCAA record with his 14th interception on a fourth-down pass by Towles to seal the outcome.
For Williams, who finished with 126 rushing yards to go with his two touchdowns, the day only served to make him eager to play in the game again.
"It's one of the biggest rivalries in college football history," Williams said. "It's real fun getting to play against crosstown rivals, going out there with my teammates and going to battle with those guys."
Unfortunately, Saturday will be the last time the group plays as currently constituted. Dupree, Za'Darius Smith and other seniors will move on to pursue professional careers, whether in football or elsewhere.
"It's very emotional," said Dupree, who had seven tackles, a sack, three tackles for loss and two forced fumbles. "My last college game and I had a chance to win and just couldn't pull through. The team just has to learn from it for next year coming in."
Dupree's tone was the consensus among UK players and coaches: a combination of disappointment and looking to the future.
"Growing up a Kentucky fan, this is a game you dream about playing," said Towles, who was intercepted twice in 29 attempts in throwing for 176 yards against a tough Louisville defense. "And we had an opportunity and I didn't get it done today. We gotta go back to work so I will get it done next year."
This time next year, no one wants to be done playing football, but there's a certain satisfaction that comes with leaving everything on the field on the heels of two lopsided losses.
"I think it was important to come out and play against a very good football team on the road, with our rival," Stoops said. "We had lost some games. That was pointed out, and our guys responded and played a hard-fought game. We tried and competed at a high level."
The effort served as a reminder of the progress the Cats have made in Stoops' second season. Though the season ended with six losses in a row, UK won more games in 2014 than in the previous two seasons combined while also dropping tough battles to the likes of Florida, then-No. 1 Mississippi State and No. 22 Louisville.
"I don't think you can let the ending of the season cloud the progress that's been made," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said.
"We've definitely made progress and the offseason starts tomorrow for us," Williams said. "We're going to get to work and we're just going to improve this offseason and get better and go into next season with a winning mentality, approach every game right."
While Williams and the UK returners are getting back to work, Dupree will be preparing for the NFL Draft, where he is projected as a first-round selection. He'll be following the program he helped begin to rebuilt nonetheless.
"I'm confident in Coach Stoops and the program and the staff members," Dupree said. "I see a bright future for this team, for this program and big-time recruits coming in. The only thing they can do is just keep going up. We've been to the bottom. The only thing they can do is keep going up."
Stoops, meanwhile, will hit the recruiting trail looking to finalize another good signing class. Reaching a bowl game would have been a boost, but the path forward remains the same.
"As you look at this season, I never hid from the fact that it was important to win one of these games down the stretch," Stoops said. "We didn't get that done. We'll continue to work. We'll reset ourselves and go back to work. But I am proud of this group. I'm proud of the seniors. I know we've improved."