LEXINGTON, KY. – With just under 5 minutes left in the game Saturday night, the University of Arkansas had a 20-7 lead, the football in its hands and looked well on its way to its second straight SEC road win.
But then the Razorbacks dropped their guard and University of Kentucky true freshman Randall Cobb knocked them out.
Cobb caught two touchdown passes in a little over two minutes – one that he set up with a punt return – as the Wildcats rallied past the Razorbacks 21-20 at Commonwealth Stadium.
"That is a tough one to take," Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino said. "We were in complete control of that game. We needed to score a touchdown to put it to three scores. I thought we had one, but it got called back.
"Then we needed to be able to run out the clock," Petrino said. "We had the ball wih five minutes to go and we couldn't run out the clock. Then our defense needs to come up with stops and we weren't able to do that. It's a shame, but it tells you how quick the momentum can change."
The loss occurred despite another career-best effort from junior tailback Michael Smith, who rushed 35 times for a new career-high 192 yards and accounted for 253 all-purpose yards and a pair of scores before leaving with an injury.
"He got banged up a little bit," Petrino said. "He probably has a concussion which is scary because we don't know how long he'll be out with that. It's a shame because he was playing his heart out, doing a great job of running the ball and catching the ball...That hurt us a lot losing him."
It's no surprise that the offense went stale for the Razorbacks (3-4, 1-3) when Smith left in a game where they had a whopping 11 penalties for 102 yards.
"We need to learn how to play without Michael," Petrino said. "We have to have other guys step up and make plays, continue to have tempo on offense and get in and out of the huddle, find a way to go finish the game and win the game, not to let the clock run out."
Arkansas led 17-0 in the second half.
"Saying we gave the game away is an understatement," Razorback senior center Jonathan Luigs said. "We had them (Kentucky) right where we wanted them, had them where they were about to quit. Somehow they found their way back in the game.
"It's a tough one to swallow," Luigs continued. "We just made tons of mistakes, with penalty after penalty we just shot ourselves in the foot tonight. We can't do that on the road, especially in the SEC. I don't have the words to say how disappointed we are as a team."
On the other hand, Kentucky head coach Rick Books was overjoyed.
"I told them in the locker room football is a reflection of life in a lot of ways," Brooks said. "When it's the very darkest of the very worst, you have to keep on believing because giving up is not an answer, it's not an alternative. For them to actually make it happen and make those words real, I am very proud of them."
Cobb stepped forward for Kentucky (5-2, 1-2) soon after an Arkansas fumble and the home team taking over with 4:47 left.
First he got free for a 32-yard touchdown catch from Mike Hartline that helped get it to 20-14 with 4:15 left in the game.
Arkansas couldn't pick up a first down and had to give the ball back with over two minutes left.
Petrino was asked if he consider taking a safety as Arkansas did last weekend at the end of a 25-22 win at Auburn.
"No we didn't think about taking a safety at the end of the game," Petrino said. "There was a lot of time left on the clock, which was the biggest difference between this game and last week (against Auburn). We felt like we could get a good punt. We had been punting the ball well. A safety just never crossed our minds."
Cobb returned the punt 14 yards to the Razorback 35.
It took only two plays and 29 seconds before he was racing free again into the end zone.
His 21-yard scoring catch and Lones Seiber's game-winning PAT gave Kentucky a 21-20 lead with 2:21 left.
"On the sideline I saw everybody had their heads down and I told myself it was time to become a leader," Cobb said. "I decided to say and do something.I started going to my teammates to tell them to focus and try to get the win."
Arkansas had time to get in position for a field goal attempt, but Kentucky's Marcus McClintock outfought Greg Childs at the Razorback 47 to preserve the win.
This obviously didn't go to script," Brooks said. "We struggled early. We seemed to do some good things and then we would undo them in the first half. We ran the ball better in the first half than we have been usually running it, but we seemed to come out with no points. I've been around some strange games, but this ranks right up there. When it did turn, there was no question that our players believed they could win. We had our time outs and we used them pretty well in the middle of the fourth quarter. It was just a very strange game, and I'm proud of the way our players were able to hang in there and compete and battle.
It happened with defensive star Micha Johnson playing hurt at linebacker.
"All of the guys want to keep on fighting," Johneson said. They have inspired me to keep fighting through my injury and I'm leaning on them. The heart they have showed is what football is all about. We believe in and inspire each other, and that is what we did today."
Arkansas actually scored its first opening quarter touchdown of the season when freshman Elton Ford picked off a Mike Hartline pass to set up his team at the Kentucky 24.
Five plays later, Smith ran in from the 2 and Shay Haddock's PAT put the Razorbacks ahead 7-0 with 8:29 remaining.
It stayed that way until deep in the second quarter when Jerry Franklin picked up a Wildcats' fumble and took it back to the home team's 18.
Smith turned Casey Dick's short pass into a 22-yard touchdown catch and run with Haddock's extra point boosting Arkansas ahead 14-0 with just 1:15 left before intermission.
The Razorbacks took the second half kickoff and marched 67 yards to 2 before having to settle for Haddock's 19-yard field goal.
It bounced off the goal post and through for a 17-0 lead at the 9:35 mark.
Kentucky did get on the scoreboard soon afterwards when Alfonso Smith took a screen pass and turned it into a 71-yard touchdown.
Seiber's PAT cut it to 17-7 less than a minute later.
Arkansas went ahead 20-7 on Haddock's 23-yard field goal with exactly 10 minutes left in contest.
The boot occurred after Arkansas' longest scoring drive of the year, a 20-play, 87-yard that lasted 10 minutes.
Dick was just 11-of-29 for 94 yards with a touchdown and a pair of interceptions.
Hartline was 17-for-32 for 239 yards and 3 touchdowns while Cobb was 2-of-2 for 45 yards and also caught 5 passes for 73 yards.
Ole Miss visits Arkansas next week for a 6 p.m. game.
"We'll go back to work," Petrino said. "This team will continue to have a good attitude, continue to have good character and work hard."
Kentucky 21, Arkansas 20
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