Kentucky saves its best for last in ‘gratifying’ win over Louisville

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Terry Wilson runs for a touchdown during the first quarter of Kentucky's 56-10 win over Louisville Saturday night at Cardinal Stadium. (UK Athletics Photo)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) — Kentucky saved its best for last.

The Wildcats (9-3) put the finishing touches on a memorable season with a 56-10 win over rival Louisville Saturday night. It marked just the second time Kentucky has won nine or games during the regular season in the past 68 years. The last time the Wildcats achieved the feat was in 1977 when that squad finished 11-1 after winning the Peach Bowl.

Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said the blowout was “gratifying” and praised the 17th-ranked Wildcats for “putting it all together and staying the course during a difficult season.”

“It’s not easy to do the things this team has done and is doing,” he said. “When you’re breaking down barriers and doing things that haven’t happened in a very long time, there going to be bumps in the road and highs and lows and there’s going to be good and bad. I just greatly appreciate everybody in our program and our organization for just staying the course, staying steady, believing in the things we’re doing. That group of payers, led by the seniors, is just a special group of young men.”

The senior class also went out in style, with two victories in four years over the Cardinals, concluded their season with nine straight losses and will go into the off-season looking for a new coach to replace Bobby Petrino. The two-time Louisville coach was fired more than two weeks ago following a disastrous second stint at Louisville that ended with seven straight losses under his watch.

Kentucky, meanwhile carries a two-game winning streak into the postseason and will likely play in a New Year’s Day Bowl for the second time in three years. The team’s destination is likely the Citrus Bowl in Orlando or the Outback Bowl in Tampa. The bowl bids won’t be awarded until Dec. 2, but the break will give the Wildcats an opportunity to rest and celebrate a big win over its in-state rival.

The rivalry between the two teams recently has featured the quarterback and this one was no different. Stephen Johnson was the star in Kentucky’s 41-38 upset of the Cardinals two years ago, while Lamar Jackson provided the fireworks in the Cardinals dominating 44-17 win a year ago in Lexington. This time, it was Kentucky signal caller Terry Wilson.

Wilson was nearly flawless, especially in the first half and completed 14 passes on 16 attempts for 208 yards. The junior signal caller threw touchdown passes of 28- and 13-yards to Lynn Bowden and also rushed 32 more yards. Wilson finished 17-0f-23 for 261 yards and three touchdowns. He threw an interception in the third quarter, but the miscue proved to be harmless.

“He was awesome tonight and he was slinging that thing,” Kentucky tight end C.J. Conrad said. “He looked comfortable out there and that’s awesome.”

Wilson said the Wildcats simply  played within the playbook and were “having fun.”

“It was our mindset for us that we needed to go out there and show everybody how explosive (of an offense) we are,” Wilson said. “We just came out humming and ready to go and ready to make plays.”

Although Wilson won the Howard Schellenberger Award, he had plenty of help on offense. Standout Running back Benny Snell rushed for 100 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while Bowden hauled in six passes for 86 yards. Six receivers had receptions of 10 yards or more in the decisive victory. A.J. Rose added 112 yards on 10 carries, including a 75-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter to put an exclamation point on Kentucky’s offensive performance.

If that wasn’t enough, freshman running back Kavosiey Smoke pushed the Wildcats over the 50-point mark with a 37-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter.

“By the second or third drive, you are what you are and us making that statement early (let them) know we were going to play all night,” Snell said. “I just knew it was going to be one of those nights.”

Kentucky linebacker Josh Allen said the Wildcats didn’t forget last year’s setback to the Cardinals at Kroger Field and played a role in the team’s overwhelming performance.

“We had to make a statement,” he said. “They beat us last year and I feel like we had to win like this. We knew we had the better team and the best players out there. We just had to excuse ad the offense did a heck of a job putting up points and we did a better job in the second half of not letting them score.”

Following a loss to Georgia and a letdown at Tennessee, the Wildcats have rebounded nicely during the past two weeks and will carry a winning streak into the postseason for the first time since their win over the Cardinals here two years ago and nine wins to go with it.

“We would like to have a different record than we have right now, but coming out and dominating like we did tonight, there’s no better feeling,” Kentucky linebacker Kash Daniel said.

They will have more time to celebrate as the Wildcats await their December destination.

Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at keith.taylor@kentuckytoday.com or twitter @keithtaylor21.

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