Sophomore wide receiver Dorian Baker caught a 5-yard touchdown pass from Patrick Towles to tie the game with 52 seconds left in regulation, then hauled in a 3-yard touchdown pass from Towles for the go-ahead score in overtime.
The Wildcats defense, which gave up 363 total yards to its FCS opponent, found a way to make some big stops down the stretch, including the game-winning stand in overtime. Senior defensive lineman Cory Johnson recorded his career-high 19th tackle on a sack of EKU’s Arien Beasley, who was scrambling on a halfback pass, on 4th-and-12 to squash the Colonels’ upset bid.
“We just feel very fortunate," Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops said. "That's the word that jumps out at me right now. Give (EKU) credit. I feel like they coached better than we did, they played with much greater energy and enthusiasm and executed better than we did. Fortunately, we had some guys step up and make some plays late, I am very proud of our team and our determination to stay with it and to finish the game and somehow find a way to get the victory.
"To somehow find a way to get to 4-1, at the end of the year, it doesn't matter. Nobody will know how or what it looks like. A victory is a victory and very fortunate to get that tonight."
Kentucky (4-1, 2-1 SEC) was led by Towles with 329 yards passing and three touchdowns to offset four sacks and two interceptions. UK played without leading rusher Stanley “Boom” Williams, who was sidelined due to a “personal issue” that kept him out of two practices earlier in the week. The Cats struggled without him, gaining only 55 yards rushing on 36 carries.
Eastern Kentucky (2-2, 1-0 OVC) got 183 yards passing and two touchdowns from quarterback Bennie Coney, as well as 84 and 78 yards rushing, respectively, from tailbacks Ethan Thomas and Dy’Shawn Mobley.
“I’m proud of guys on how they played," EKU coach Dean Hood said. "They accepted every challenge; we just didn’t make enough plays and didn’t do enough things right, coaching and playing down the stretch. I have to give it to Kentucky – they had a great fourth quarter and a great plan.”
In this AllWildcats Rapid Recap feature, we touch on the highlights from the game...
WHAT WE LIKED:
Kentucky found a way to emerge with a 4-1 record on a night when the Wildcats should have walked out of Commonwealth Stadium with a 3-2 mark and perhaps a devastating blow to their season aspirations. According to UK offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson, even while trailing by 14 points with five minutes left in the game, his unit was unusually-positive on the sideline and determined to find a way to win. That says a lot for how far the program has come. Just three years ago, UK was finding ways to lose to Western Kentucky in the same scenario.
After Kentucky scored to slice the deficit to 27-20 with 4:59 remaining, the UK defense came up with a huge 3-and-out, aided by a tremendous read of a screen pass by senior safety A.J. Stamps, who raced to the line of scrimmage to stop the Colonels’ Mobley for no gain and force the punt. If EKU had been able to pick up one more first down, it could have forced UK to burn its final timeouts and attempt to tie the game under considerably more pressure. Instead, the Cats took over at the EKU 39 after a 19-yard punt return from Ryan Timmons and 3:49 on the clock.
Dorian Baker used all of his physical gifts to score the tying and go-ahead TDs. On the first, he used his 6-foot-3 frame to go up and over 5-11 EKU cornerback Stanley Absonon, who had almost perfect coverage on the fade pass. On the second score, he used his 210 pounds to plow through the final EKU defender at the goal line and into the end zone.
BY THE NUMBERS:
- 0 - Seniors in UK's starting offensive lineup for the first time since records started being kept on lineups in 1993.
- 1st - Lead by EKU over UK in the four-game history of the series between the neighboring programs when the Colonels went up 20-13 in the fourth quarter.
- 5 - Straight UK games to start the season with games decided by eight or fewer points, the first time since the program began in 1881 for that to happen.
- 19 - Tackles by senior defensive lineman Cory Johnson, a new career high after setting one last week with 11 against Missouri.
- 19 of 23 - Patrick Towles' passing accuracy in the second half and overtime.
- 1949 - Cats are 4-1 in back to back seasons for the first time since Paul "Bear" Bryant was on the UK sideline.
- 2007 - The last overtime win for a UK team, the dramatic 43-37 triple-overtime upset of No. 1 LSU at Commonwealth Stadium. The Cats had lost their last four OT games.
Kentucky has an open date before returning to action on Thursday, Oct. 15, at Commonwealth Stadium against Auburn. The Tigers improved to 3-2 on Saturday with a 35-21 win over San Jose State.