Cursed no more

With one big pass, UK derails U of L and snags its first top-10 win since 1977

The box score says it was just one play. The highlights show it was just one score. But after decades of losing seasons and late-game meltdowns, it was so much more than just one pass.

With that pass — a perfectly placed bomb from Andre Woodson to Steve Johnson for a game-winning 57-yard touchdown with 28 seconds remaining — UK erased 30 years of futility against top-10 teams and a half-decade of losses to in-state rival University of Louisville.

With that pass, UK declared itself a player again in the Governor’s Cup rivalry and a factor again on the national scene. UK (3-0) beat No. 9 U of L (2-1) 40-34 in front of a deafening crowd of 70,857 at Commonwealth Stadium.

“Before that drive, I went up to Keenan (Burton) and said ‘Keenan, I’m going to make the play,’ ” Johnson said. “I had to stay true to my word, and that’s all I did.”

Johnson did much more than that. He helped lead the Cats to their first win over a top-10 team since 1977 and ended the four-game losing streak to U of L.

“Obviously this was an extremely hard-fought football game between two teams,” head coach Rich Brooks said, “and finally the right team won.”

The long touchdown pass provided a fitting end to a game that lived up to the mountain of expectations of fans in the Bluegrass State. Despite numerous swings in momentum, neither team could pull away from the other, and the game was decided on the final possession.

“It had more twists and turns than a Dickens novel,” Brooks said.

The first twist went UK’s way.

U of L turned the ball over twice within the first three minutes of the game. Cardinals wide receiver Trent Guy fumbled the opening kickoff, setting up a 36-yard field goal by UK kicker Lones Seiber, and quarterback Brian Brohm threw an interception to cornerback Trevard Lindley on U of L’s first offensive play of the game.

Thanks in large part to the Cardinals’ turnovers, the Cats were able to stake to an early 13-0 lead. However, Brohm and the U of L offense woke up, outscoring the Cats 21-6 going into halftime to take a 21-19 lead.

UK appeared to regain momentum after halftime with a methodical 11-play, 78-yard touchdown drive to open the second half, but U of L’s Guy returned the ensuing kickoff 100 yards to retake the lead 28-26. It was Guy’s third career touchdown return, the other two scores coming on punt returns.

The Cats reclaimed the lead early in the fourth quarter on a 5-yard pass from Woodson to tight end Jacob Tamme, but the Cardinals scored with 1:45 left to take a 34-33 lead.

After Tamme caught a 5-yard pass for a fourth-down conversion on the final drive for UK, the Cats appeared to be nearing field-goal range. But on the next play, offensive lineman Eric Scott received a 15-yard personal foul penalty, moving the Cats back to their 43-yard line.

Johnson’s heroics saved Scott.

On the next play, Woodson fired the game-winner to a wide-open Johnson, who had easily beaten U of L cornerback Woodny Turenne.

“The only thing going through my head is, ‘Stevie, please catch the ball,’ ” Woodson said. “Once he caught it, I knew.”

“We were in zone coverage,” said U of L head coach Steve Kragthorpe. “Woodson made a good throw. Give him credit, he made a nice play.”

UK had run the exact same play on the previous down, when Woodson dumped the ball off to tailback Tony Dixon — and at the end of the first half, with Woodson barely missing Johnson’s outstretched arms.

“They were in a three-man rush and playing real wide,” Brooks said. “We had noticed a little earlier that the corner playing the deep-third of that side was squeezing into the middle.”

The loss for U of L, their fifth against UK since the rivalry was renewed in 1994, likely ended any national championship aspirations the Cardinals had.

The much anticipated quarterback battle between arguably the two best quarterbacks in the nation lived up to its billing. Woodson was 30-for-44 for 275 yards and four touchdowns, while Brohm put up his normal Heisman-like numbers, throwing for 366 yards and two scores.

“You’ve heard me say it and I’m going to say it again, (Woodson) is as good as any quarterback in the country,” Brooks said, “and I think he’s proven that tonight. He’s proved that forever.”

Woodson broke the SEC record for most consecutive passes without an interception, setting the record at 257. Perhaps more importantly, Woodson and the seniors got their first win against the Cardinals.

“This team just kept coming back, kept coming back,” Brooks said. “No matter what went wrong, they found a way to make it right. I’m so proud of this team and particularly our seniors, who have been through so much with this program to come back and win a game of this magnitude and significance.”