Cats pick up win No. 6 on senior day; send seniors, program to bowl game


Seniors J.D. Harmon and Marcus McWilson wave to the crowd while walking off the field for the final time after the game against Austin Peay on Saturday, November 19, 2016 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Hunter Mitchell | Staff

By Chris Angolia

The Big Blue Nation can breathe a sigh of relief when it comes to their beloved UK football team because for the first time since 2010, the team has become bowl eligible with its 49-13 victory over the Austin Peay Governors.

“Very excited for our football team, for our program,” coach Mark Stoops said after the game. “It was an important win.”

Although the score may have showed differently, this game was actually close at one point and UK was flirting with disaster down 13-0 ten seconds into the second quarter following a pick-six.

However, it was not Stephen Johnson who threw the pick, but rather sophomore-transfer Luke Wright who got the start because of a knee injury Johnson had sustained at Tennessee in the loss. Before the game UK said that Johnson was still available but only in emergency situations.

Being down 13-0 to a team that was 0-10 and win-less in 763 days was considered an emergency by coach Mark Stoops who subbed Johnson in on the very next drive.  From that point on, it was smooth sailing for the Cats as the team went on to score 49 unanswered points to grab complete control of the game.

“I thought (Johnson) did a really good job. For someone to come in and do that with not a lot of reps, it says a lot about him,” offensive coordinator Eddie Gran said after the game.

A close game or even the unspeakable, a loss, to a team like Austin Peay would almost be too much for any fan base to endure, especially when bowl eligibility was in question. But luckily, both sides of the ball for UK turned it around and made sure that this game was not in question.

Benny Snell kickstarted the UK offense with a 30-yard touchdown run midway through the second quarter and a pair of touchdown passes in the last four minutes of the second quarter gave UK a 21-13 lead at the half.

From that point on, it was time to pile it on for Gran and company.

In the third quarter alone, the Cats had three rushing touchdowns, all over 25 yards. Boom Williams had the first and shortest touchdown run of 25 yards, Snell had one of 48 yards, and senior Jojo Kemp ran one in from 40 yards out.

Kemp would go on to finish with 58 yards and two touchdowns on senior night in his final game at Commonwealth Stadium.

Kemp’s fellow running backs also had a big night when it came to the record books Saturday night. Snell broke Moe Williams’ freshman rushing record, and joined Boom with over 1,000 yards on the season, making it the first time in school history that UK has had a pair of running backs reach 1,000 yards in a single season.

At 6-5 and the game against in-state rival Louisville coming up on Saturday, the Cats will be able to play without the added pressure of needing a victory to reach a bowl. And for seniors like Kemp, Jon Toth, Ryan Timmons, Marcus McWilson, Blake McClain and Courtney Miggins, who played their final home game, getting to six wins and bowl eligibility is about a nice of a send off as there is.

“We’re thankful to get to six victories and proud of the seniors,” Stoops said.  “We wouldn’t have done it without them and without their leadership. So, just an exciting locker room.”