In an eerily silent Commonwealth Stadium, Randall Cobb was giving himself a pep talk.
The Kentucky Wildcats were in deep doo-doo.
With the Governor's Cup hanging in the balance, 131/2-point-favorite UK had unleashed a comedy of third-quarter errors (three turnovers) and blown all of a 17-7 halftime lead.
Now, only 44 seconds into the fourth quarter, Louisville — the same Louisville that saw many of its own fans mocking the Cardinals' chances of victory in the run-up to our state's marquee football game — scored to take a 20-17 lead.
On the UK sideline, Cobb unleashed a do-better talk with himself.
"I hadn't done much in the game," Kentucky's multitalented sophomore said later. "I told myself, 'This is the time I have to make plays.' "
Turns out, the Alcoa, Tenn., product is the type who keeps promises to himself.
UK fended off a determined Louisville's upset bid, 31-27, Saturday thanks in significant part to two clutch plays from Cobb while the game was on the line.
After Lexington Catholic product Justin Burke threw his first college touchdown pass to put U of L up 20-17, Kentucky was in grave danger of going three-and-out on its ensuing possession.
Facing a third-and-10 from the UK 42, quarterback Mike Hartline saw Louisville showing blitz at the line of scrimmage and checked into an outside screen to Cobb.
The 5-foot-11, 188-pound wideout caught the ball, but the Cardinals had the play sniffed out well short of the first-down marker.
As Cobb disappeared into a gaggle of U of L tacklers, an audible groan rose from the Commonwealth crowd of 70,988.
Milliseconds later, it was replaced with squeals of delight when Cobb somehow squirted down the left sideline for 28 yards.
"Huge," Kentucky Coach Rich Brooks said of the play, "because it was third-and-long, and it looked like they had him."
Kentucky running back Alfonso Smith was among those who thought Cobb was toast.
"I thought he was down, absolutely down," Smith said. "I still don't know how he got out."
It appeared, on the television replay, that Cobb got out by delivering a pretty good forearm to Louisville linebacker Brandon Heath to shake loose.
Joker Phillips, the UK head coach for offense, had an alternative explanation.
"Houdini was a magician," Phillips said. "Randall is Houdini."
Sparked by Cobb's disappearing act, Kentucky drove the field and retook the lead, 24-20, on a Derrick Locke touchdown run with 8:55 left in the game.
Yet the need for heroics from UK's magic man was not over.
First, Burke — who acquitted himself well, 15-for-28 for 245 yards and two touchdowns, in his return home — hit Trent Guy with a perfectly thrown 66-yard TD bomb to return U of L to the lead, 27-24, with 7:49 left.
Then the Cardinals' defense held, forcing a UK punt.
Trying to fair catch a short kick, Louisville's Guy instead fumbled the ball back to Kentucky at the Cardinals' 24.
After two Locke runs netted the Cats 12 yards, Hartline threw a fade pattern toward Cobb in the left corner of the end zone.
It turned out to be essentially a jump ball between Cobb and Kardell Dunning, a 6-foot U of L defensive back.
With the ball and the game hanging in the air, it was the shorter Cobb who came down with what proved to be the game-winning TD.
"Randall's really, probably, about 5-9, but he just went up and outrebounded the guy," said Phillips.
Hartline, the UK quarterback, had an explanation for how the smaller player won the ball.
"Randall is just a great athlete, man," he said. "He does special things."
In winning, UK maintained its claim on college football superiority in the commonwealth. It denied Steve Kragthorpe the program-altering victory the embattled Louisville coach so desperately needs.
Turns out, what it took to keep the Governor's Cup in Lexington for a third straight year for the first time in history was Randall Cobb's magic act when the game hung in the balance.
Pretty good pep talk Houdini gave himself.
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