The Big Blueprint
Missed the game? Watched it but can't get enough or can't believe what you saw? Cat Scratches will break down the nuts and bolts from each and every game, including some postgame reaction and comments from the players who made the difference.
In one of the most exciting games in series history, the Kentucky Wildcats overcame three third-quarter turnovers and came from behind twice in the fourth quarter to upstage a valiant effort from Louisville and win 31-27. The win marks the first time the Cats have won three straight Governor's Cup games since the series was renewed in 1994. Junior quarterback Mike Hartline tossed the 12-yard game winner to Randall Cobb in the left corner of the end zone with 4:28 to play, but the Cats didn't seal the outcome until Corey Peters deflected a pass and Sam Maxwell picked it off in UK territory with just under two minutes to go.
Play of the game
Cobb's one-on-one catch to go ahead for good in the fourth quarter could have easily been the play of the game, but the clincher didn't occur until Maxwell and the UK defense came up with a huge turnover with the game hanging in the balance. Threatening to score on the UK 21, U of L quarterback and local product Justin Burke dropped back to pass and fired to his left. The UK pass rush, which is still obviously a work in progress, did its job when the game mattered the most, and senior captain Corey Peters got his hand on the ball. Burke's pass fluttered in the air and into the arms of Maxwell, who rumbled 17 yards on the return. UK had to come up with one more stop at the end, but it was Maxwell's interception that ultimately thwarted U of L's biggest game-winning threat.
Steve Kragthorpe warned reporters not to blame the loss on Trent Guy's botched fumble return, but there's little sugarcoating Guy's fumble - it changed the outcome of the game. The Cats, trailing 27-24 late in the fourth quarter, were forced to punt it away and the crowd was at an uneasy edge. Ryan Tydlacka sent off a wobbly 32-yard punt to the speedy Guy, but the ball hit Guy between the numbers and fell right through his arms. Fullback A.J. Nance pounced on the football, and three plays later the Cats scored and went up for good.
Player of the game
If UK would have lost, Derrick Locke could have well been the goat. Following his fumble early in the third quarter, Locke was so upset with himself that he went to sideline and vomited.
"It got to me pretty me pretty good," Locke said. "I'm not going to lie, I almost dropped some tears because I've never fumbled before. I've always told myself that I don't want to fumble. You can't score if you don't have the ball, and me fumbling, I felt like I was letting me team down."
Only Locke wasn't. After a talk with his teammates and coaches, specifically running backs coach Larry Brinson, Locke finished off a spectacular performance in a come-from-behind win. The junior tailback, who had season-ending knee surgery not even a year ago, rushed 15 times for a team-high 72 yards, including a 100-yard kickoff return. Locke is the only player in program history to return two kickoffs 100 yards for a touchdown.
The defense had its struggles at points in the game, most notably its failure to hold Victor Anderson in check early on and a 66-yard touchdown play from Justin Burke to Trent Guy. However, there's no telling how this one would have ended up had the Cats not come up with huge stop after huge stop in the third quarter.
Despite being on the field for more than 13 minutes in the third quarter (most on its own side of the field) thanks to three turnovers and a lengthy kickoff return, the Cats somehow yielded just six points in the third frame. Sure, the Cats' defensive players gave up big plays and big yardage Sunday, but without those stands after halftime, UK would have not carried the Governor's Cup off the field for a third straight year.
"We were very tired a few times," Maxwell said. "I thought about coming out a few times, but I'm a better player than that and had to keep playing."
And let's not forget about how the defense held it together in the fourth quarter when Trevard Lindley left the game with a bruised knee. The numbers aren't pretty (U of L had 378 total yards of offense), but UK doesn't win Saturday without that defensive effort.
He said what? Other notable quotes:
Brooks on the third quarter ...
Brooks on Hartline's play ...
Brooks on the end result ...
Hartline on the resiliency of this team ...
Trevard Lindley bruised his knee and couldn't finish the game, but Brooks doesn't think it's serious. Nance pulled a hamstring and missed a few snaps, but he appears to be OK. Safety Mat Lentz suffered a minor concussion and was unable to finish. Perhaps the nastiest injury though happened on the UK sidelines when Locke was forced out of bounds on a kickoff in the second half. Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Randy Sanders took a brutal shot after the collision and broke his arm when he tried catching himself as he was falling down.
"I'd say he's pretty doubtful for next week," Brooks joked.
In all seriousness, though, Brooks said Sanders stayed on the sidelines and coached the rest of the game. His toughness trickled down to the rest of the team.
"I think Randy is a professional," Brooks said. "He's a first-class act. I think he's liable to be a little bit quicker on the foot now because those are the types of things that can result in more serious injury on the sidelines."
UK is making a habit out of coming back in the fourth quarter. Dating back to the 2006 season, the Cats have orchestrated 10 fourth-quarter comebacks. It feels like come-from-behind wins are starting to become the norm, but Brooks said these types of wins wouldn't have happened in the past.
Unlike Brooks' early teams, these Cats know how to handle adversity.
"Three, four, five years ago, if those things would have happened, we would have lost the game. There's no question about that," Brooks said. "I think the team, particularly the last three and a half years, has learned that we have playmakers, too, that we can overcome mistakes or good plays by the other team. We don't always do it (and) I don't want to put ourselves in that position all the time, but we've got playmakers. Some of them stood up and made plays."
What this one means
No one would outright call this one a must-win game for the Cats, but in reality it definitely was. With No. 1 Florida, Alabama, and trips to South Carolina and Auburn on the schedule, UK had to win Saturday. A loss to Louisville would have dropped the Cats to 1-1, and while early in the season, could have generated some negative momentum that could have ultimately sent the season into a tailspin.
Now, with a win in hand a perfect record to fall back on, the Cats are riding high into their toughest game of the season.
The biggest thing to take away from Saturday's game is that the Cats weren't happy with Saturday's result. They'll take the win, no doubt, but the program has come to the point where the players are no longer just satisfied with a win. They want to play flawless football.
Asked if they stood a chance if they play like this next weekend against defending national champion Florida, Peters flat out said no.
"It's always good to get the win, but we know we have better teams coming in the next couple of weeks so we have to continue to get better," Peters said. "I don't think we're at the level that we really need to be at this point in the season."
UK-Louisville live football blog
The blog will start at approximately 11:30 a.m. EDT, live from Commonwealth Stadium.