Cats survive yet another drama-filled fourth quarter as they push season record to 5-1.
Jeff Drummond/Cats Illustrated
LEXINGTON, Ky. - For the third consecutive Saturday night at Kroger Field, Kentucky's fate came down to the final play of the game.
The Wildcats survived yet another dramatic finish as their defense forced an incomplete pass to the end zone as time expired to seal a 40-34 win over Missouri.
"My poor heart," UK head coach Mark Stoops said with a smile and a sigh of relief. Last week, he saw Eastern Michigan's "Hail Mary" at the buzzer fall incomplete. Two weeks ago, the Cats missed a long field goal attempt as time expired against Florida.
"We've always got to make it dramatic," Stoops said. "... I want to credit our team with finding ways to win and responding to adversity."
Kentucky (5-1, 2-1 SEC) goes into the open date on the schedule having matched its best start in five years under Stoops.
Missouri (1-4, 0-3 SEC) battled from behind almost all night long. The Tigers fell behind 10-0 in the first quarter and trailed 27-17 in the third quarter before pulling even entering the final stanza.
Kentucky got a 64-yard touchdown pass from Stephen Johnson to Garrett Johnson to reclaim the lead with 14:09 remaining, but the Cats coughed it back up 23 seconds later when Missouri's Drew Lock found Johnathon Johnson on a 75-yard touchdown strike.
The Cats responded with a pair of clutch scoring drives capped by Austin MacGinnis field goals of 53 and 20 yards to provide the winning margin. The latter came with 1:48 to go, forcing the Tigers to drive the length of the field for a touchdown in order to win the game.
"That's the way this team is built right now," Stoops said of the latest nail-biter finish. "It's going to be tough, hard-fought games. That's the way this league is."
Missouri lost despite out-gaining UK 568 to 486 in total offense. Lock completed 22 of 42 passes for 355 yards and three touchdowns. He also rushed for a fourth score. Ish Witter added 139 yards rushing for the Tigers on 17 carries.
"What a great environment to play in," Missouri head coach Barry Odom said. "Give credit to Mark and his staff for having his guys ready to play. I’m proud of the way our offense went out and made plays, made big plays. We just kept responding."
Stephen Johnson completed 22 of 36 passes for 298 yards and two touchdowns to lead UK. Sophomore running back Benny Snell Jr. added 117 yards rushing, the eighth 100-yard game of his career, including a 71-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.
Kentucky linebacker Josh Allen recorded his sixth sack of the season in the first quarter, stripping Lock at his own 19-yard line to set up UK's first score of the night, a 14-yard touchdown pass from Johnson to Blake Bone.
In this Cats Illustrated "Rapid Recap" feature, we touch on some quick-hitters from UK's victory...
WHAT WE LIKED:
Kentucky once again found a way to win. It's going to be a victory that gets scrutinized by the hard-to-please faction of Big Blue Nation, but at the end of the day, the Cats are 5-1. Former Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis would have liked this bunch. "Just win, baby." On to the next one.
Stephen Johnson, Kentucky - Nobody represents "Just win, baby" better than the Cats' senior quarterback, who has an uncanny knack for playing his best football under pressure. UK had three possessions in the fourth quarter. Johnson engineered three scoring drives for 13 points. He had pass completions of 64, 13 and 20 yards and two key runs of 8 and 7 yards.
BY THE NUMBERS:
1st - Time in school history the Cats have scored 23 or more points in 12 straight regular-season games.
5-3 - Kentucky's all-time record against Missouri, including wins in the last three matchups.
6.5 - Average yards per rushing attempt for Missouri. UK entered the game third in the nation in rush defense, allowing only 2.62 yards per carry.
7 - Catches for UK's Garrett Johnson for 111 yards and a touchdown.
314 - Career points for UK kicker Austin MacGinnis, who is now the school's all-time scoring leader after posting 16 points tonight.
57,476 - Attendance at Kroger Field for Homecoming 2017.
"This bye comes at a perfect time for us. We absolutely need it at this point. They've played their hearts out for six straight weeks, and it's a good opportunity for us to catch our breath for a minute." - UK head coach Mark Stoops.
Kentucky returns to action on Oct. 21 at Mississippi State. The Bulldogs (3-2, 1-2 SEC) were off this week. They'll face BYU next week before playing host to the Cats in Starkville.