Newton leads Kentucky past Eastern Kentucky 37-12
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP)—Morgan Newton threw his first two career touchdown passes and three other Wildcats ran for scores as Kentucky dominated Eastern Kentucky 37-12 Saturday, extending its nonconference winning streak to a school-record 18 games.
Newton, a true freshman starting his fourth game in place of the injured Mike Hartline, threw the first scoring passes of his brief Wildcats career just over a minute apart late in the third quarter.
First, he connected with Maurice Grinter from 14 yards out. Then, after an interception by Sam Maxwell gave the Wildcats the ball right back deep in Eastern Kentucky territory, Newton found Chris Matthews in the corner of the end zone on an 18-yard timing play.
Reeling from a loss to Mississippi State a week earlier in which Anthony Dixon set a Bulldogs single-game rushing mark, the Wildcats (5-4) needed to win this game and at least one of their final three SEC contests to become the first Kentucky team to qualify for a fourth straight bowl appearance. Coach Rich Brooks and the players had set an even loftier goal of improving their postseason destination this year after winning two Music City Bowls and one Liberty Bowl the previous three seasons.
Newton, who completed 20 of 29 passes for a career-high 187 yards and no interceptions, wasn’t the only offensive playmaker replacing an injured teammate against the overmatched Colonels (5-4).
With tailback Derrick Locke sidelined by injuries to both knees, Moncell Allen and Alfonso Smith filled in admirably, each rushing for more than 60 yards and one touchdown.
So, too, did Donald Russell, who took his first of three carries in the game for 79 yards—running untouched to the end zone to stretch the Kentucky lead to 37-6. Prior to that carry, he had rushed for only 46 yards all season.
Also out of action was the team’s top receiver, Randall Cobb, who had a banged-up thumb, but Matthews, La’Rod King, Gene McCaskill and others gave Newton plenty of passing targets.
Defensively, the Wildcats had their way with Colonels dual-threat quarterback T.J. Pryor, who completed just 9 of 28 passes while throwing two interceptions and being sacked once.
One of the few bright spots for Eastern Kentucky was one scoring drive that included some trickery and a long pass.
Pryor connected for a 43-yard bomb to Orlandus Harris, who had to leap over a Kentucky defender to make the catch. With Eastern lined up in field goal formation a few plays later, holder Marcus Williams sprinted into the end zone on a fake, cutting the Kentucky lead to 10-6. The Colonels couldn’t tack on the extra point due to a high snap.
Kentucky quickly answered with a touchdown to lead 17-6 at halftime. Newton completed consecutive passes of 15 and 16 yards, setting up a 1-yard TD plunge by Smith, who had picked up 15 yards two plays earlier.
Will Fidler, who relieved Newton at quarterback on the previous drive and also subbed briefly in the second half, got the team into position for a 22-yard Lones Seiber field goal.
Allen gave the Wildcats their first points with under 5 minutes left in the first quarter, running for a 1-yard TD two plays after he was stopped just short of the goal on a 7-yard run.
The Wildcats started the drive from the Eastern Kentucky 35 after the Colonels were forced to punt from their own end zone. Kentucky had driven to the 10 on its previous possession but turned the ball over on downs when Smith couldn’t pick up the few inches needed to preserve the drive.