Lynn Bowden solidifies legacy with Belk Bowl-winning drive

Kentucky Wildcats quarterback Lynn Bowden Jr. (1) kisses his son Lynn Bowden III after the Belk Bowl football game between Kentucky and Virginia Tech on Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2019, at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina. UK won 37-30. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

Mohammad Ahmad

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In a chaotic, exciting sea of euphoria and raw emotion at Bank of America Stadium, Lynn Bowden Jr. had tears streaming down his eyes. His eyes red, he softly sobbed tears of joy with his toddler son, Lynn Bowden III, by his side and his teammates embracing and mugging him in extreme joy. 

Fans cheered on Bowden as he gave them high-fives down from the field to the stands. He expressed his gratitude and love for Kentucky and its loyal fans, who cheered him on from the beginning until the very end of his career, during the Belk Bowl MVP presentation. 

“I’ve got to show my love for them [the fans] just as they love me. I wouldn’t feel right if I just left, especially my last game. I want to make sure everybody feel love from me,” Bowden said. 

This moment was unlike any other for Bowden. From winning weekly honors, winning a VRBO Citrus Bowl, scoring touchdowns in every way imaginable and winning the Paul Hornung Award among many other accolades, nothing could compare to this moment. In this moment, Bowden was once again a champion – this time, a Belk Bowl Champion.

But, this time, he was a leader, hero and and MVP as he rode off into the sunset to venture a future in the NFL. 

Bowden ended his Kentucky football career as the official Belk Bowl MVP after leading his team in a go-ahead drive during the game’s final minute as the Cats defeated the Virginia Tech Hokies, 37-30, in nail-biting fashion on Tuesday afternoon. 

Down 24-30 with 8:15 remaining in the game, Bowden led his team to a 15 play, 85 yard, 8:00 drive that culminated with him throwing a go-ahead 13-yard touchdown to wide receiver Josh Ali in the back of the end zone to put the Cats ahead for good.

Ali ran a post pattern while Bowden tried to buy time to find him open. With the right timing, luck and play design, Ali was able to haul in the golden catch. Yet, amazingly, while the play was designed to be a pass play from the beginning, it wasn’t initially designed for Ali.

“It was really supposed to go to Ahmad Wagner. But, he came over to me before the play and told me to run over to a post and get open. And that’s what I did,” Ali said. “He [Lynn] trusted me and threw the ball.”

Ali’s touchdown catch was only his third this season and his fourth in three years at Kentucky as he finished the game with four catches, 52 yards and the go-ahead touchdown.

Meanwhile, Bowden shined per usual and finished the game rushing for 233 yards on 34 attempts and two touchdowns whilst throwing 6-for-12 and 73 yards and the golden touchdown pass. The go-ahead touchdown pass was only his third this season, a rare deviation from his usual running abilities.

For head coach Mark Stoops though, he says that the play design made sense in that particular situation.

“We had one one timeout, so one thing about throwing it is that it gives Lynn the opportunity to scramble. With no timeouts left, that’s tough,” Stoops said. “So I wanted to throw it right here. I had all the faith in the world he was going to complete a touchdown pass.”

While fans might remember Bowden’s different rushes on that final drive that set up the touchdown, along with his other big running plays, it can be easy to overlook the brutal hits and mistakes Bowden made beforehand.

He threw an interception with 12:48 remaining in the fourth quarter that helped set up a Virginia Tech field goal. With just over seven minutes remaining in the third quarter, he was sacked and fumbled the ball before his offense recovered it.

Even after getting hit physically and mentally, Bowden still found a way to shrug that off and keep his composure and push through until the very end.

“It’s football, it’s bound to happen. People in the league getting paid to get scored on, so it ain’t nothing like I going to get down on myself because I can’t,” Bowden said. “If I get down on myself then my team get down on themself, and I’m the leader. So I got to stay up.”

As hard as Bowden pushed himself, he also had a wall of giants that helped him string together those successful plays. Like he’s done all season, Bowden credited his fellow offensive linemen for helping create the big holes that he ran though all season long. 

“It’s incredible. It’s like last year with Benny [Snell]. We’ve been blessed with some great skill guys,” said All-American offensive lineman Logan Stenberg, who also played his final game as a Wildcat.

“Give the offensive line skill credit. You don’t see that across college football.”

Everything that came together on that final drive even astounded Hokies head coach Justin Fuente too.

“We just couldn’t get off the field. It wasn’t like they were ripping off big chunk yardage plays. In terms of clock management and what we were trying to accomplish, we were in no-mans land the whole drive,” Fuente said. “They just did a better job.”

The Belk Bowl victory encapsulates an improbable journey that few people would’ve ever imagined. Bowden went from starting the season as the No. 1 receiver to ending the season as the No. 1 quarterback after season-ending injuries to Terry Wilson in week two. In that process, Bowden either matched or broke several records while putting up eye-popping stats that caught the eyes of many across the nation, forever etching himself in the record books and producing unforgettable memories.

However, one of those few people who isn’t surprised at Bowden’s journey is the very one who helped bring him to Lexington. Recruiting coordinator Vince Marrow, a Youngstown, Ohio native just like Bowden, said he saw potential in the wide receiver-turned quarterback back in high school.

“I saw him do it for three years in high school so it’s not surprising to me,” Marrow said.

“I got a lot of flack from a lot of guys in Youngstown who said, ‘Why aren’t we putting him at quarterback?’ He was one of those guys after the South Carolina game who texted me and said, ‘Coach, I hope you all give me the chance to do that. Y’all won’t regret it.'”

Bowden leaves Kentucky for good, but his impact will always remain with the program. There might not ever be another player of Bowden’s caliber at Kentucky, but everyone ahead of him has a chance to learn from his success. 

“The legacy that he leaves and the example that he set for all these young guys, you know, that’s what we need to hang onto. I’m not sure you could get another guy like this,” Stoops said. “He’s certainly one of the best that’s ever played at the university.”