Cats go ‘4’ record in rivalry game

UK Wide receiver Randall Cobb attempts a touchdown against Alabama at Commonwealth Stadium on Oct. 3, 2009. Alabama was up 21-6 at halftime. Photo by Adam Wolffbrandt Staff

Sandwiched between the 1976 Peach Bowl and the 2009 Liberty Bowl in the glass trophy case in the lobby of the Nutter Training Facility sits the Governor’s Cup.

For UK’s 13 seniors, they’ve become accustomed to seeing the 110-pound trophy on a consistent basis.

“Yeah we got to keep that in there, I was just looking at it the other day,” senior defensive end DeQuin Evans said. “It’d be huge for the senior class to know that if we beat them they can go on the rest their lives saying, ‘We never lost to Louisville.’”

UK is trying to retain the Governor’s Cup for the fourth consecutive year for the first time in the modern history of the rivalry, which resumed in 1994. U of L had a streak of four straight victories from 2003-2006, the span of Bobby Petrino’s reign as head coach of the Cardinals.

“I go look at it every day; It’s right there, nice and shiny,” said fifth-year senior defensive tackle Ricky Lumpkin, who didn’t see the field during U of L’s 59-28 win in 2006  because he was redshirting. “I’d love to have it there for the next couple of years even when I’m gone, it’s a pride thing because you come here for that game…you don’t come here to see a blank, empty spot. You can have all the bowl trophies, but this is the first game of the season, this is our big rivalry, you beat them and you have bragging rights.”

For one UK senior, a win at Papa John’s Stadium on Saturday would make even more Governor’s Cup history.

Mike Hartline is aiming to become the first quarterback to win three games as a starter in the modern history of this rivalry. He is already in elite company, as only three other starting quarterbacks in the modern history of the series have undefeated records; UK’s Tim Couch was 2-0 while former Cardinals Stefan LeFors and Jason Payne were 2-0 and 1-0, respectively.

Hartline said that the personal record would only matter after the game, but that his prior experience starting on the road in this rivalry should serve him well.

“We’ve been over there, we know what the atmosphere is like, we know it’s big,” Hartline said. “It’s not going to be any shock that it’s hot and it’s a hostile environment, but we have to play our best.”

Coming out sharp will be the Cats’ focus because the implications of the season opener go beyond bragging rights across the Bluegrass state.

The game is the first of four non-conference games for the Cats, who will likely be favored in all four games. Couple the soft non-conference schedule with a favorable Southeastern Conference slate of games, and UK’s players and coaching staff knows that taking care of business could lead to more trophies in the glass case.

“If either team is going to have a great year, it’s important to get this one,” UK head coach Joker Phillips said. “I would say momentum is the biggest thing that’s come out of this game here.  It’s important for both teams involved that you leave this game with momentum to carry you through the rest of the season; I don’t think either team can have a great year without this because I think we both need the momentum.”