Cats knock off Cards in Phillips’ head coaching debut [Slideshow]

UK Football 2010: Louisville – Images by Kentucky Kernel

LOUISVILLE—The Joker Phillips era has started on a winning note.

In his first game as UK head coach, Phillips’ team scored 35 seconds into the game against archrival Louisville and an impressive early offensive display, which accounted for many of UK’s 230 rushing yards, lifted the Cats to a 23-16 win.

Also making his head coaching debut, Cards head coach Charlie Strong was unable to rally his team to prevent UK (1-0) from capturing its fourth consecutive Governor’s Cup, which is the longest win streak for the Cats in the modern history of this rivalry. UK’s streak comes on the heels of the Cards’ (0-1) four straight Governor’s Cup victories from 2003-2006.

“I’m excited and I’m excited about this program,” Phillips said of the victorious start to his tenure. “For us to have a great season, we had to win this game…that’s what I was more excited about, not me, I care too much about this program to be selfish.”

The Cats’ first offensive series quickly silenced a record 55,327 fans on hand at the newly-renovated Papa John’s Stadium. Senior tailback Derrick Locke, who was awarded the Howard Schnellenberger Award as the game’s most valuable player, set the tone for the running game early with his 32-yard scamper for a touchdown on the second play of the game.

“I thought we were going to blow them out of here and get our second and third stringers on quick,” said Locke, who carried the ball 23 times for 115 yards and two scores, despite being slowed by tightness in his calf and cramps.

Coupled with a strong running performance was the steady play of senior quarterback Mike Hartline, who became the first UK quarterback to go 3-0 as a starter against the Cards.

The oft-scrutinized Hartline looked poised from the start, connecting with sophomore wide receiver La’Rod King on the opening play of the game for 38 yards. He was 10-of-12 for 115 yards by halftime in helping UK to a 20-6 lead.

“(Hartline) did more than manage the game,” Phillips said. “He made some plays to win the game: He scrambled, he made some throws, he ran when he needed to, he got rid of the ball when he had pressure and he managed that pressure and that’s one of the things we thought he needed to do.”

The second half looked to bring much of the same UK dominance from the first half. After stopping the Cards on their first offensive series of the second half, UK put up points in the form of a 41-yard Ryan Tydlacka field goal on its first second-half drive to extend the lead to 23-6.

U of L senior tailback Bilal Powell, who finished with a game-high 156 yards, responded on the very next play with a career-long, 80-yard touchdown run. Then, UK started to unravel mentally with seven penalties for 59 yards in the second half compared to the Cards’ one second-half penalty.

“I’m not going to say we were relaxed, I just felt like we made too many mistakes,” Locke said. “How many offside penalties did we have? False starts? We couldn’t get to the line, just simple stuff that we can clean up for the next game.”

Although the areas improvements for the next game will become clearer in film study for the Cats this week, the players were pleased to escape with the road win.

“This is a big game, no matter if you’re a fifth-year guy or a freshman,” Hartline said. “You’ve got to play good in the Louisville game, you’ve got to win it.”


UK junior punter Ryan Tydlacka booted a career-long and Governor’s Cup record 62-yard punt in the second quarter…Locke was the recipient of the inaugural Howard Schnellenberger MVP award…UK junior free safety Mychal Bailey recorded his first career interception in his first career game as a Cat…This was the first game in the newly renovated Papa John’s Stadium…The Cats have now won four straight season-opening games…Seven different UK receivers caught two or more passes in the game.