‘Ice in His Veins:’ MacGinnis Nails Game Winner

Austin MacGinnis saw how the game was playing out.

He’s played football for long enough that he knew what that might mean for him.

“As soon as we went up six, I started telling myself, ‘This might come down to me,’ ” the junior kicker said.

The feeling started after he made a 32-yard field goal to extend UK’s lead to 37-31 with less than seven minutes to play. Then Mississippi State approached scoring territory on the ensuing drive.

“They started driving so I had to put in my mind, ‘I’m about to kick a game winner,’ ” MacGinnis said.

Then Nick Fitzgerald tossed a go-ahead touchdown to Fred Ross with barely a minute to go. That’s when MacGinnis went public with his prediction.

“I told Grant (McKinniss), our punter, I said, ‘I’m about to kick a game winner,’ ” MacGinnis said. “Told the managers, ‘I’m about to kick a game winner.’ ”

He was proven to be prophetic, as UK drove into MSU territory and gave him a crack at a 51-yard field goal. At that point, MacGinnis put all those feelings aside.

“You try to just block out any thoughts,” MacGinnis said. “You try to just be present in the moment. Zen.”

There would be no Zen after the kick passed through the uprights and barely over the crossbar. It was all half-remembered elation from there as UK (4-3, 3-2 Southeastern Conference) celebrated a heart-stopping 40-38 win over the Bulldogs.

“I think we both just looked at each other and I don't even know what we said,” Mark Stoops said. “Just, you know, I gave him a hug and probably told him I loved him."

“Tears of joy,” Benny Snell Jr. said. “I just couldn’t believe it. I was just so happy we were able to finish through.”

“It was definitely huge,” Stephen Johnson II said. “My stomach was turning and my mind was going a million miles an hour, but once it went up I knew it was good. I’m so happy to have MacGinnis here. I mean, he’s just got ice in his veins. He’s a tremendous kicker.”

Johnson’s joy was mixed with a heavy dose of relief, as it was his fumble returned for a touchdown that opened the door for the Bulldogs. MacGinnis redeemed him in the end, as well as himself. On UK’s opening drive, the Cats stalled in the red zone and turned to their kicker for a 28-yard try on the same end of the field where he would later hit the winner. The attempt clanked off the right upright, but MacGinnis didn’t let it linger.

“You always gotta put any kick behind you, make or a miss,” MacGinnis said. “It’s always about the next kick. If you’re thinking about the last kick, you don’t give yourself a chance.”

In spite of the miss, his coach and teammates didn’t doubt him for a second.

“Once it left his foot, I knew it was good,” Johnson said. “We see him do it every week, every day in practice. As soon as it left his foot, I knew it was good.”

“I had a lot of confidence with him in that last kick, I did,” Stoops said. “I was good with it either way because I felt like our team, our players played their hearts out; I know our coaches coached their hearts out. And I have a lot of confidence, I've been telling you guys that I felt like Austin was getting real close to being an elite kicker, getting back to like he is.”

That last sentence was a reference to MacGinnis’ struggles of a season ago, when he battled injury throughout. Just like his first missed kick, that was a distant memory when he lined up the game winner.

“He's a wonderful kid and he works hard, and he's healthy, and our team has a lot of confidence in him,” Stoops said. “He just told the team that he was just proud to be a part of it and get it for them.”

In the wake of an evening that ended on the shoulders of his teammates, MacGinnis figures to enjoy newfound celebrity on campus this week. But asked about exactly that, he brushed off the notion.

“Same old, same old,” MacGinnis said. “Because we got another game next week. Gotta go and beat Missouri.”

Pressed, MacGinnis had to admit that’s not entirely true.

“Maybe a little better,” MacGinnis said of his life on campus this week.