COLUMN: Cats ‘finally’ on winning side

UK had no option but to win over No. 10 South Carolina Saturday — we all know that. Fans know it, players know it and head coach Joker Phillips knows it.

It’s a good thing the Cats prevailed, too. Most fans could not have handled a third consecutive heartbreaking loss. A close defeat would have crushed followers and players alike. Sure, a blowout beating would have hurt, but not nearly as much as falling by a field goal or less.

With the Mike Hartline to Randall Cobb score to put UK up 29-28 with slightly over one minute remaining, the team put itself in position to win, something everyone deserved.

It had no choice but to hold the lead.

“We’ve given this type of effort every week,” Phillips said. “We just made a lot more plays today, especially in the second half. At halftime, we challenged our guys that we were in a street fight. We needed to know who had each others backs…All 80 of our guys did.”

And they all had the fans’ backs, according to wide receiver Chris Matthews, who had a career day against the Gamecocks. As did the fans had the players backs, evidenced by the rush.

“It was crazy — I’ve never felt anything like that in my life,” he said. “I was just trying to get to the sideline and I turn around and see 1,000 people running after me… It was just an amazing thing.”

Cobb used the word “finally” so many times postgame I thought he was broken. In fact, the majority of the team kept repeating the word. It seemed to be the general consensus that it was UK’s turn to be on the right side, after the tough losses it has faced the past two (or three, including Florida) weeks.

Even Phillips began his press conference with “I’m still shaking…what an effort.” Don’t let anyone make you believe the win wasn’t earned — it was. I could see it. Excitement was flowing from every part of the players’ being, and it was impossible not to feel their joy.

It’s tough to imagine what the locker room was like following the victory, but I’m almost sure it was a little fun (and sweaty).

The Cats can’t get hung up the big win, though. After knocking off one of the best teams it will face this season, UK must look forward, and quickly.

The team is still alive in the Southeastern Conference East hunt thanks to the upset victory last weekend, but it will be an uphill battle. The Cats must dig themselves from the hole they fell into while beginning SEC play 0-3.

Though UK isn’t yet, and will likely never be, flawless, fans saw glimpses of a SEC East champion team Saturday. Nearly every facet of the team’s game was improved, but to achieve the 5-3 record Phillips believes will be enough to win the division, the Cats cannot afford another mistake.

Phillips believes his team is the right one for the job.

“Our football team rolled up their sleeves and went to battle,” Phillips said. “I really like how they’re fighting. Period.”