Cats overcome challenge from EMU to get close win

Kentucky wide receiver Tavin Richardson celebrates a touchdown during the game against Eastern Michigan on Saturday, September 30, 2017 in Lexington, Ky. Kentucky won 24-20. Photo by Chase Phillips | Staff

On Saturday, the UK Football team was able to escape past Eastern Michigan and grab their fourth win on the season, as the Cats defeated EMU 24-20.

The win wasn’t an easy one for the Cats, as they were pushed by a strong Eagles defense most of the game. UK now has a 4-1 record on the year and has won 11 of their last 16 regular season games.

EMU got off to a fast start after Stephen Johnson was strip-sacked on the first play, and EMU quarterback Brogan Roback threw a 20-yard touchdown pass on the following play. It only took 15 seconds for the Eagles to take the 7-0 lead.

The Cats would respond with an eight-play, 75-yard drive of their own to tie the game. From there, The Cats and the Eagles would punt on the next five possessions.

After heading into the half tied at 14, punting would continue to be a trend, as UK punted on five of their eight second half drives.

However, a couple of special teams mistakes from Eastern Michigan and big plays from the UK defense kept the Cats in the game, and arguably led to the win. 

After the Eagles forced UK to punt on their first drive of the second half, EMU’s punt returner muffed the punt, and long snapper Tristan Yeomans recovered in EMU territory. That setup a 39-yard field goal from Austin MacGinnis.

Early in the fourth quarter, Josh Paschal blocked one of EMU’s low-flying punts, which setup the Cats’ next drive on the Eagles’ 12-yard line. Benny Snell would take a carry into the end zone on the next play, giving the Cats a 10-point lead with 11:56 remaining.

“Me and (Charles) Moushey, we just decided that we were going to change it up a little bit and we were going to book one, just to block it,” Paschal said on his blocked punt. “We knew one of us was going to get there.”

EMU’s offense threatened to take control at many points throughout the second half, but well-timed sacks from the “Blitz Bros,” Josh Allen and Denzil Ware, kept the Eagles’ offense at bay.

“Rush defense again was very good,” head coach Mark Stoops said after the game. “…Came up with big sacks and had an opportunity for a few more pressures.”

EMU’s offense was able to break through and score a touchdown with 2:34 remaining on a two-yard run from running back Ian Eriksen. After another UK punt, EMU would get the ball back 88 yards away from the end zone with 44 seconds remaining, needing four points to tie after a missed extra-point kick on the previous touchdown.

That distance in such a short amount of time proved to be too big of a challenge for the Eagles, as they weren’t able to score before the clock struck zero. Roback attempted a 47-yard hail mary on the final play of the game, but Mike Edwards intercepted the pass and ended EMU’s fate.

On a day where the offense struggled, Johnson finished with 175 yards and two touchdowns, but most of those stats came from the first half. Edwards led all defenders with eight tackles to go along with his interception. 

Up next for the Cats is an evening game at Kroger Field against Missouri. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.