1 for the ages

Cats unseat LSU in first victory over a top-ranked opponent since 1964

In 2002 it was the “Bluegrass Miracle.” Last year it was the 49-0 rout in Baton Rouge, La. But after years of heartbreaking losses and demoralizing defeats against Louisiana State, the UK football team finally found a way to topple the Tigers on Saturday night.

In what was possibly the biggest win in UK football history, the No. 17 Cats took down No. 1 LSU in triple overtime in front of 70,902 raucous fans at Commonwealth Stadium. The 43-37 win marked the third time in UK football history that the Cats defeated a top-ranked team — and the first since 1964, when the Cats defeated Ole Miss.

“I just can’t say enough about these young men,” head coach Rich Brooks said. “Whenever it starts to look dark, that’s when they dig down and find something extra. They did it again tonight.”

After trailing for almost the entire game, the Cats (6-1, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) found a way to go head-to-head with the Tigers (6-1, 3-1 SEC) and defeat them.

“No matter who believes in us or who doesn’t, this team just sticks together,” senior quarterback Andre Woodson said. “We’re a family, and we believe in one another all the time.”

With the win, the Cats catapulted into the Associated Press top 10 for the second time this season, landing at No. 8. UK was ranked No. 13 in the USA Today Coaches Poll. More importantly, the Cats were ranked No. 7 in the first Bowl Championship Series Standings of the year.

“It’s nice,” Brooks said of the AP and USA Today rankings. “But what’s really more important is being 2-1 in the SEC with the defending national champion coming to our place with a chance to solidify ourselves. The ranking will take care of itself.”

Despite a college football season of unbelievable upsets and shocking losses by top-10 teams, not many people saw Saturday’s win coming. The Cats were nearly double-digit underdogs to the unanimous No. 1 team in the AP poll.

“In terms of oddsmakers, ours wasn’t as big of an upset as an Appalachian State beating Michigan or Stanford beating USC,” Brooks said. “I just like to think that we’ve got a good football team, and if we play well enough, we can beat any team in the nation.”

Seconds after linebacker Braxton Kelley smothered LSU tailback Charles Scott a yard short of the first down on fourth-and-two in the final overtime, thousands of UK fans stormed the field in celebration. Unlike the “Bluegrass Miracle,” when UK fans were stunned on the sidelines by Devery Henderson’s 75-yard Hail Mary catch, this time the Cats and their fans got to revel in victory.

“You can’t help but be on that field and celebrate,” Woodson said. “It’s just crazy, it’s a great feeling, and it’s great to know you accomplished something so big, especially in your senior year.”

After the Cats and the Tigers traded touchdowns in the first overtime and a pair of field goals in the second overtime, UK started with the ball to begin the third overtime. UK drove all the way down to LSU 2-yard line, but a delay-of-game penalty pushed the Cats back to the 7-yard line.

Under heavy pressure from the No. 1 overall defense in the country, Woodson stood tall in the pocket on third-and-goal and hit a wide-open Steve Johnson in the end zone after LSU cornerback Jonathan Zenon tripped and fell down in coverage.

Woodson’s third and final touchdown toss of the game highlighted another comeback in the senior’s storied career. Despite a sluggish first half, he finished 21-of-38 for 250 yards and a rushing touchdown.

“What he did out there tonight, if that isn’t All-American-like, I don’t know what is,” Brooks said. “He was the man out there tonight.”

Woodson’s pass to Johnson put the Cats up 43-37 after a failed two-point conversion attempt — which both teams are required to make after two overtimes — but the Tigers still had a chance to win the game.

On the following possession, UK’s defense came up with a four consecutive stops to end the nation’s longest winning streak and the Cats’ four-game losing streak to the Tigers.

“This one ranks right up there with the best wins of my career,” wide receiver Keenan Burton said. “Who can say they beat the No. 1 team in the country? A lot of teams can’t say that.”

UK almost missed the opportunity to say that after falling behind early in regulation. Scott, LSU’s fourth-string tailback, gashed the Cats’ defense in the first half for 91 yards on five carries, including two touchdowns, to put the Tigers up 17-14. LSU opened the second half with a 4-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Matt Flynn and added a field goal to extend the lead to 27-14.

But the Cats didn’t falter.

After tailbacks Tony Dixon and Derrick Locke carried the Cats deep into LSU territory, Woodson hit tight end Jacob Tamme with an 8-yard strike in the back of the end zone to get the Cats back within 6 points with just over a minute to go in the third quarter.

Two defensive stops and two Lones Seiber field goals later, the Cats found themselves in a 27-27 tie with the No. 1 team in the nation heading into overtime.

“I can’t say enough about the guts and the character of this football team,” Brooks said. “That was a heck of a football team we beat out there tonight.”