Kentucky (6-5, 4-4 SEC) overcame a sluggish start and dug itself out of a 13-0 hole by scoring touchdowns on seven straight possessions to beat the FCS Governors 49-13 on Senior Day at Commonwealth Stadium.
With one game remaining in the regular season, the Wildcats are bowl-eligible for the first time since the 2010 season.
"Obviously very excited for our football team, for our program," Stoops said. "It was an important win... Our football team showed its toughness all season, and it was evident again tonight."
Freshman running back Benny Snell led the way, rushing for 152 yards and two touchdowns. In the process, he broke Moe Williams' UK freshman rushing record (1,006) and teamed with Boom Williams to give the Cats a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in the same season for the first time in program history.
The Cats finished with 410 yards in total offense, including 281 on the ground. Senior running back Jojo Kemp added 54 yards and two touchdowns, while Williams chipped in with 47 yards and a score. Normal starting quarterback Stephen Johnson did not open the game for UK due to a sore knee, but completed five of nine passes for 101 yards and two touchdowns in relief of Luke Wright, who threw a second-quarter interception for an Austin Peay touchdown.
After giving up 13 points early in the game, the UK defense eventually settled down and put the clamps on the Governors, who failed to score on their final nine possessions. Austin Peay (0-11, 0-8 OVC) was limited to 284 total yards and was picked off twice by the Cats' Mike Edwards and Chris Westry.
Freshman running back Kentel Williams led the visitors with 124 yards rushing and one touchdown.
In this All Wildcats "Rapid Recap" feature, we take a closer look at some highs and lows from the night at Commonwealth Stadium...
WHAT WE LIKED:
Just like they did after starting the season 0-2 with demoralizing losses to Southern Miss and Florida, the Cats displayed impressive resilience after falling behind Austin Peay 13-0 in the first quarter. There was no panic, no heads dropped, just a self-assurance that talent and execution would eventually win out. "We don't flinch," senior running back Jojo Kemp said, borrowing from his head coach's season catchphrase. "We just go back to work." Lesser UK teams may have let the slow start spiral into something much worse.
Jon Toth, Kentucky -- On Senior Day, we follow Snell's lead and honor the leader of the O-Line that opened up so many holes for the running backs all season long. Toth, a holdover recruit from the Joker Phillips era, has been the anchor for a unit that entered tonight with the 17th best rushing attack in college football. The senior center has helped UK post 250 or more rushing yards in five of the last six games as the Cats pushed toward bowl eligibility.
BY THE NUMBERS:
2 - Kentucky touchdowns called back on holding penalties in the first half, a 94-yard run by Boom Williams and a 9-yard run by Jojo Kemp.
5 - "Explosive play" touchdowns for Cats: a 30-yard run by Snell; a 40-yard pass from Stephen Johnson to Garrett Johnson; a 25-yard run by Williams; a 48-yard run by Snell and a 40-yard run by Kemp.
6 - Games with at least 35 points scored by the Cats, the most since doing it nine times in the 2007 season.
27 - Passing yards for Austin Peay, the lowest by a UK opponent since Miami (Ohio) had 23 in 2013.
36 - Largest margin of victory in UK program history for a game in which the Cats trailed by 10 or more points.
2,666 - Rushing yards for UK this season, the most since recording 2,960 in 1976.
"It's a big step in the culture change. We want this to be the norm, to go to bowl games, and that's our plan." -- UK head coach Mark Stoops.
Kentucky closes out the regular season with the annual Governor's Cup game at Louisville. The Cardinals (9-2) are coming off a shocking 36-10 loss at Houston which knocked the No. 5 Cardinals out of the College Football Playoff discussion.