Turtle Dives Goal Line To Seal Victory

LEXINGTON -- So intent was Christian Holmes on protecting the football, he wasn’t going to give it up to anyone. Not even to somebody wearing stripes. “Actually the referee was like ‘44, you’ve never scored?’ I said nah, I had the ball high and tight. He said, ‘can I get the ball?!’”

Too bad that SEC official did not allow Holmes to take a trophy back to the sideline, and then Starkville. But the Bulldog linebacker doesn’t mind. Because his name now shows on the 2014 season list of scorers, after Holmes returned Kentucky’s onsides kickoff for a touchdown. For a game-clinching touchdown too, sealing #1-ranked Mississippi State’s 45-31 victory.

“He makes a play to seal the victory for us,” Coach Dan Mullen said. “You know, all season long it’s kind of been somebody different and that’s one thing I’m proud of our guys.”

The coach can talk about somebody different stepping up…but in the wildest scenarios Mullen would never have come up with Holmes’ name as hero. Certainly the Mississippi State media relations crew will scour records this week for any previous example of an onsides kickoff returned for touchdown.

Funny thing, though. Holmes had practice it this week. No. Really. He and State honest-to-goodness saw it happen during game week work, Holmes avows.

“Actually this week Logan Cooke kicked an on-sides kick. It didn’t go far enough and I scooped and scored. So the opportunity came and I took advantage of it!”

Well, sure. Still it’s fair to say scoring on this sort of play wasn’t in Holmes’ own plans either. All he and his ten teammates on the field at 2:31 of the fourth quarter wanted was to field the absolutely-assured short kickoff. Kentucky had just pulled within a touchdown for a fifth time, and given one more shot who knew what might happen? Certainly an entire nation was watching to see if #1 was about to suffer its first loss and the SEC have a new leader.

What they saw instead will be on replay highlights alllllll weekend. Maybe longer.

UK kicker Austin McGinniss did bump the ball as expected, and right to Holmes who fielded on the hop cleanly under no pressure. Then, he started running and slipped one Wildcat arm-tackle. Suddenly he had momentum, enough blocking, and one blue shirt reaching at him from behind. It was McGinniss, of all people.

Now no self-respecting player much less a linebacker is going to let a specialist take him down. “All I could think was don’t let the kicker catch me, that was my only thought,” Holmes admitted. His coach was thinking something else from the far sideline. But, to show the trust Mullen has in his troops, he wasn’t screaming for him to get down and play it safe.

“No, I mean he was a receiver in high school, he’ll tell you, right? No way he was going down in that scenario.” In fact Holmes did catch balls at Puckett High and score touchdowns. The last one in the state championships in fact, against Taylorsville. And after opening his Bulldog career as a reserve linebacker he did get some looks at tight end/fullback and was a 2012 spring game star.

The old training showed from across the field, too. “As long as he had the ball high and tight and tucked away…” Mullen shrugged. “And he was over by the sideline so if they hit him I figured it would go out of bounds. But I watched, he kept going, I kept waiting for him to get caught…and he kept going and I kept waiting for him to get caught…and I’m like holy cow, he might actually make it all the way right here. I mean he almost ran out the clock. You can tell him I said that.”

Holmes, much better-known by his amphibian nickname of Turtle, didn’t run out anything but of field after escaping McGinniss around the 25. “I was running, looked back and saw the kicker and was of god…then I saw the pylon and was like ‘dive Turtle, dive!’ And he didn’t even draw a flag for doing so, at the end of a 61-yard return touchdown.

And the style of score wasn’t even the oddest part, to Holmes. “I was kind of disappointed because Matt Wells got a 15-yard penalty,” he said, referring to a sportsmanship foul committed by his fellow linebacker on UK’s touchdown. “So that made it an even longer run! But all I could think was just catch the ball and run. I felt that was my opportunity to make a play.”

As well as to do something he never got an opportunity for in his short stint on the offensive roster. Hmmm…might Turtle think of asking for a chance to show his skills at tight end again?

“I don’t know. But after that I may get my shot back at it!”

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