Kentucky football ends season with 26-13 win over No. 25 Louisville


Isabel McSwain

Kentucky Wildcats wide receiver Chauncey Magwood (10) carries the Governor’s Cup trophy after the Kentucky vs. No. 25 Louisville football game on Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022, at Kroger Field in Lexington, Kentucky. UK won 26-13. Photo by Isabel McSwain | Staff

Cole Parke, Sports Editor

Kentucky football (7-5) ended its 2022 regular season with a 26-13 win over in-state rival Louisville, keeping the Governor’s Cup trophy in Lexington for the fifth straight season.

The Wildcats entered the matchup coming off two consecutive losses, first to Vanderbilt and second to No. 1 Georgia, while the Cardinals entered the matchup fresh off a win over No. 24 NC State.

Despite the difference in circumstances entering the contest, Kentucky had won its last three matchups against the Cardinals, last winning 52-21 in Louisville last season.

The last time the Cardinals were successful against the Wildcats was in 2017 when the Cardinals won 44-17 in Lexington under the leadership of eventual first round NFL Draft pick and current Baltimore Ravens starting quarterback Lamar Jackson.

Kentucky made it apparent early that it intended to build off its narrow loss to Georgia one week prior and keep its win streak alive over the Cardinals on the defensive side of the ball.

“I think it means something, the product that we put on the field and how we play, it matters,” Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops said. “The preparation matters. How we play and what we put into it throughout the week, how competitive we are, how tough we play. You’re going to have some ups and downs, and you have to be able to respond. I’m proud of this team. Maybe things didn’t go exactly how we all wanted it to, and certainly there are a lot of things that I could do better and will do better and will work at.”

While the Cats were forced to punt on their first drive, the UK defense stifled a UofL unit led by backup quarterback Brock Domann to give Kentucky another chance to score.

Taking advantage of the opportunity, the Wildcats recorded an 86-yard drive that was capped off by an eight-yard pass from Will Levis to Dane Key in the endzone.

Kentucky’s defense shined once again on the next drive, allowing Louisville to march down the field and into the red zone before the Wildcats shut down the Cards on a fourth-and-one on UK’s own 13-yard line to regain possession and keep the visitors scoreless.

The subsequent Wildcat drive carried over into the second quarter before ending in a 43-yard field goal for Matt Ruffolo, a big moment for a UK special teams unit that struggled all season.

Motivated with a two-score lead, the Kentucky defense once again did its job, putting heavy pressure on Domann with J.J. Weaver recording a strip-sack that he returned to the Louisville six-yard line.

“I thought it was very big, the strip sack, the pressure, making it uneasy for them early,” Stoops said. “We got a sack on the second play; I thought that was big, just kind of setting the tone there. I thought just again, they were very solid attacking. Not perfect. We had some plays in there that we would always like to have over defensively, but overall played extremely hard once again.”

The Louisville defense sacked Levis to prevent any touchdown, but Ruffolo was given another chance to redeem himself, with the veteran making the most of the second opportunity as well and sending the ball through the uprights.

The Cardinals ultimately did manage to get on the board before the halftime whistle, inserting typical starting quarterback Malik Cunningham, who had been out with a shoulder injury, into the game.

Cunningham marched the Cards downfield and ultimately kept the ball himself for a six-yard touchdown rush with under a minute left in the half.

Kentucky’s defense knew the Cardinals wanted to come out hard in the second half with it now a one-score game and did its part to not allow any points, forcing a quick three-and-out.

The offense then marched down the field before encountering trouble in the red zone, a recurring theme for Kentucky this year, but the drive would not be fruitless as Ruffolo sent a third ball through the uprights to bring the score to 16-7 in favor of Kentucky.

Louisville tried to put up points on its next drive but was shut down by UK linebacker Trevin Wallace, who picked off Cunningham and returned the ball 19-yards to the UofL 16-yard line.

With the touchdown practically handed to them on a silver platter, the Wildcats scored a second touchdown with a three-yard pass from Levis to freshman Barion Brown.

Kentucky extended its lead in the fourth quarter with a career-record-setting fourth field goal from Ruffolo, this time from 40-yards out.

The Cardinals scored one more touchdown before the final whistle as Domann, who re-entered the game, recorded a 27-yard pass to Tyler Hudson, but a failed two-point conversion attempt was the final nail in a coffin that had nearly been sealed already as Kentucky walked away with the victory.

Ruffolo ended the night going a perfect 4-4 from the field and 2-2 in extra points, allowing the veteran to end his college career perfect against Louisville.

The kicker also became the first of his position to ever be named MVP in the Governor’s Cup battle.

“They told me I was the first kicker to win that award,” Ruffolo said. “It just means a lot as the field goal unit with my long snapper Cade McGraw and my holder Chance Poore and all the line to end on that performance… they gave it to me, but it is really for all of us. It was not my best year and as a unit, it was not our best year, but we stuck together, and we stuck together until the end.”

With the win Kentucky is left waiting to see what bowl it will be placed in, having met the six-win threshold, with its location, opponent and date TBD.