No. 12 Kentucky pulled off an improbable victory with a 15-14 triumph at Missouri Saturday to set up a showdown with No. 7 Georgia for the SEC East championship.
The Wildcats (7-1, 5-1) host Georgia Saturday with the winner going to Atlanta for the SEC championship against the SEC West winner, either top-ranked Alabama or fifth-ranked LSU who also played Saturday. The Bulldogs rolled to a 36-17 win over No. 9 Florida on Saturday.
Kentucky trailed 14-3 late in the fourth quarter and five minutes is all it took for the Wildcats to mount a successful comeback. Lynn Bowden’s 67-yard kickoff return for a touchdown provided a spark for a Kentucky offense that sputtered until the final decisive drive.
“We felt like we were going to find a way,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said. “Once we got the punt return, how good the defense was playing, I felt like we’d have an opportunity and put it together. … When things were getting bad, when things were getting tough, we were out there fighting in a good way.”
Quarterback Terry Wilson watched as two backups — Danny Clark and Gunnar Hoak — failed to ignite Kentucky’s offense during the first three quarters. The sophomore then provided the heroics on the final drive. Wilson marched the Wildcats downfield with a scoring drive that spanned eight plays and 81 yards and took just 1:24 to complete.
The Wildcats got a break when the Tigers (4-4 and 0-4) were flagged for a pass interference call with no time remaining, giving Kentucky one last chance at the 2-yard line. Wilson connected with senior tight end C.J. Conrad in the corner of the end zone to give Kentucky its fourth consecutive win over Missouri.
“We felt like they were going to bring the house,” Stoops said. “We felt like they had to. Just like we did a lot much of the second half. We had to get the ball out of the quarterbacks’ hands. Take the run game away, make them throw. A lot of that four-minute defense we were in. We felt like they were going to do that. We did put C.J. in at the end to get a bigger body on that stick route there. Had to create some space. Had Tavin (Richardson) working in behind him. Terry just hung in there and made a really good throw.”
Wilson, who had come under fire for his recent performances, completed 22 of 31 passes for 267 yards and a touchdown. His lone interception came on the next-to-last drive, but he came back to rally the Wildcats when it mattered the most. Bowden, Wilson’s favorite target, hauled in 13 passes for 166 yards and was instrumental down the stretch, making a couple of spectacular catches to keep the game-winning drive alive.
“He’s just an unbelievable competitor and made tough plays all night,” Stoops said of Bowden. “No environment is too big for him. He’s not afraid of anything. He’s not perfect but he’s going to go play. What he did was special.”
Missouri did all of its scoring in the second quarter, but was scoreless in the second half. Kentucky forced eight three-and-outs as the Tigers failed to muster even a first-down in the second half against the Wildcats’ defense, anchored by Josh Allen, who had 11 tackles and two sacks, including one in the fourth quarter. Missouri was 0-for-8 on third-down conversions in the final two quarters.
“The defense kept us in the game the entire game,” Stoops said. “If I’m not mistaken, they did not have a first down in the second half. Not a first down. Amazing. Absolutely amazing. With that quarterback and that team, just the guts and the determination of our defense, out of this world good. Just so proud of them and the way they played. The offense just hanging in there, plugging away.”
Jordan Jones added 19 tackles for Kentucky, which limited Missouri to just 249 total yards, more than half than average for the season.
Kentucky running back Benny Snell finished with 67 yards in 19 carries.
Missouri quarterback Drew Lock was 15-27 and threw for 167 yards.
WEST KNOWS BEST
Kentucky’s Darius West blocked a 31-yard field goal attempt by Missouri kicker Tucker McCann in the first quarter. The block by West was recovered by Derrick Beatty.
West was later flagged for an unsportsmanlike penalty in the first quarter.
West finished with eight tackles and had a pass break-up in the second half.
Gametracker: Georgia at Kentucky, 3:30 p.m. Saturday. TV/Radio: CBS or ESPN, UK Radio Network.
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter @keithtaylor21.