Trailing South Carolina 28-10 at halftime, Kentucky Coach Joker Phillips went into the locker room and told his team it was time for them to put up their dukes.
"We challenged our guys at halftime and told them that we were in a street fight," Phillips said. "We're in a street fight. I'm in a street fight. I want to see who has my back."
The Cats responded by coming out and throwing haymakers that would have dizzied Floyd Mayweather. And what made it even sweeter for Cats fans was that it was Steve Spurrier who was at the receiving end of those blows.
UK shut out South Carolina in the second half, scoring the game's final 21 points to pull off a stunning 31-28 win over the tenth-ranked Gamecocks. A 24-yard TD pass from Mike Hartline to Randall Cobb with 1:15 remaining was the game-winner.
It was Kentucky's first win over Spurrier in 18 tries and ended a 10-game losing streak to South Carolina. It also marked just the third win for UK over a top-10 team since 1977.
"We came with 80 guys, and all 80 of them had my back," Phillips said. "All 80 of them. All our defense did is come out in the second half and give up 103 yards and throw a shutout to one of the best offenses in the conference. Our offense scored when they needed to score, put together some big-time drives. The 95-yard drive was as good as I've ever seen. All three phases played their hearts out. But we have seen that every week. We've played this way every week. We made more plays this week. And we had a lot more confidence. And confidence comes when you make a play."
"Finally," Cobb said. "Finally we came through. We never lost faith. We never for one second thought we were going to lose that game. We struggled at times, but we found a way to win. That's what it comes down to. We finally found a way to win. I can't stress that enough."
The game followed an eerily similar pattern to last week's 37-34 loss to Auburn, when the Cats fell behind 24-7 before a furious second-half rally tied the game at 34 in the fourth quarter. But unlike last week, when Auburn ran out the final seven-and-a-half minutes to get a game-winning field goal, the Cats were the ones who struck the final blow.
Taking over at his 32 with 7:31 remaining, Hartline drove the Cats 68 yards in 12 plays. Facing a fourth-and-7 from the 20, two South Carolina defenders jumped on a short route to Chris Matthews, who had a career night with 12 catches for 177 yards. That left Cobb wide open in the end zone, and Hartline, facing heavy pressure, lofted a perfect ball while being thrown to the turf.
South Carolina drove to the UK 20-yard line with 11 seconds remaining and was well within field-goal range for Spencer Lanning. But Spurrier called timeout and opted to throw for the end zone. Reserve corner Cartier Rice tipped Stephen Garcia's pass intended for Lamar Scruggs in the end zone, and Anthony Mosley grabbed the interception to seal the win.
The Cats also caught a break when South Carolina freshman tailback Marcus Lattimore went down with a sprained ankle on the first series of the second half and did not return. Lattimore was a big reason the Gamecocks built a 28-10 lead. He torched the UK defense for three TDs and 212 total yards in a little more than a half: 15 rushes for 79 yards and a score and four catches for 133 yards and two TDs.
The Gamecocks picked up just five first downs and 103 yards in the second half.
"You've got to give Kentucky credit," Spurrier said. "They just beat us. They stuffed us offensively in the second half. Marcus went out early in the second quarter, and we didn't have much of a running game. Give Kentucky credit. They kicked our tails in the second half and played a lot better than we did."
South Carolina came out early and dispelled any notion that they might be flat after the big win over Alabama last week. Lattimore broke three tackles near the line of scrimmage and eluded safety Mychal Bailey en route to a 30-yard TD run to make it 7-0 at 11:53.
But South Carolina made just enough first-half mistakes to keep from putting away the Cats. Winston Guy picked off a dump pass by Garcia on the Gamecocks' third drive. That set up UK's first touchdown, a 10-yard play-action pass from Hartline to La'Rod King to trim the deficit to 14-7 at 13:10 of the second.
Lattimore added his second TD, a 10-yarder on which he broke through a Taylor Wyndham arm tackle, to put the Gamecocks back up by two touchdowns.
Kentucky could have been closer had it taken advantage of its opportunities. They drove to the South Carolina 26, but a Matthews personal foul took them out of field-goal range and forced a punt.
Tyler Robinson then recovered a Stephen Gilmore muffed punt at the South Carolina 11, but the Cats were forced to settle for a 26-yard Craig McIntosh field goal that made it 21-10 at 3:15.
The Gamecocks were able to isolate Lattimore on the perimeter with defensive end Wyndham in the first quarter, but Garcia overshot him on what would have been a sure touchdown. Then South Carolina found Wyndham once again on Lattimore following the UK field goal, and this time Garcia hit him for a 47-yard catch-and-run touchdown.
Carolina lost another fumble late in the second quarter but, despite having a 3-0 advantage in turnovers, the Cats went into halftime down 28-10.
Kentucky came out roaring in the second half. They put together a 14-play, 95-yard drive that featured an 18-yard Cobb run out of the Wildcat and a 37-yard screen pass from Hartline to Donald Russell. Hartline hooked up with King for the second time on a 5-yard slant to bring UK to within 28-17 with 3:49 left in the third.
"That was as good as I've ever seen," Phillips said of the 95-yard drive.
The defense then forced a three-and-out thanks in large part to Wyndham's sack of Garcia on second down. The Gamecocks offense clearly wasn't the same minus its star tailback.
The UK offense kept on rolling. Cobb gained 12 yards on a fourth-and-1 Wildcat carry from midfield. On the next play, Hartline found Matthews on the left, and the 6-foot-5 senior broke away from South Carolina's C.C. Whitlock and took it 38 yards for six. Hartline misfired to Cobb on the two-point conversion, but UK was within five, 28-23, with 13:09 left.
"We just can't, as they say, put the nail in the coffin," Spurrier said. "We can't put a team away. We can't do it. I don't know why. We just can't do it. The other team just beat us. That's all you can say."
Kentucky got the ball back at 7:31, and Phillips sensed that his team was ready to deliver the knockout blow.
"I said let us take the ball down the field, hold it for seven and a half minutes and score and get out of here," Phillips said.
They didn't quite run out the entire clock, but Phillips wasn't complaining after his group of street fighters did him proud.