LOUISVILLE — If you are supposed to bring the fight to a rivalry game, Kentucky couldn't wait.
The contact and confrontations started long before Louisville eventually pulled out a thrilling 44-40 win at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.
About an hour before kickoff, not once, but twice combatants from the Cats and Cards were pushing and scuffling, forced apart by cooler heads playing peacemakers.
When the Cats left the field for the final time before the start of the game, however, they gathered in the end zone and taunted the Louisville fans to a chorus of boos.
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After all, if Kentucky couldn't claim an edge over the heavily favored Cardinals in skill and size and athleticism, then the Cats were determined to own an edge in emotion.
"I definitely think we had to play with an edge about us," Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops would say later. "There's no doubt about that. I challenged the guys pretty hard this week, and they responded."
For 57 minutes of a 60-minute slugfest it worked. Punches were thrown, if not literally, at least figuratively. Touchdowns were traded. In the end, the fact Louisville had the best player on the field — DeVante Parker had six catches for 180 yards and three touchdowns — allowed the Cardinals to escape.
"Anytime you're in a great atmosphere, you need an edge," said Kentucky's star defensive end, Alvin "Bud" Dupree. "We came out before the game and got an edge. It was great. It just couldn't hold up."
"Give credit to Louisville," said Stoops, adding, "I'm proud of our team. I really felt like our guys left it all out on the field."
They did just that in what was the most entertaining Governor's Cup in recent memory. It featured the most combined points scored since 2006; an unexpected starring role for Louisville's understudy quarterback Kyle Bolin, the former Lexington Catholic star; and a flurry of fourth quarter points as the lead was traded back and forth like a ping-pong match.
Finally, when Louisville went ahead 37-33, quarterback Patrick Towles, shaky all day, rose up and hit Demarco Robinson on a 50-yard bomb that set up a 14-yard touchdown run from Stanley "I'm Not Going Down" Williams that put Kentucky ahead 40-37 with 5:31 play.
Louisville had one more bullet left in its gun, however. Bolin hit James Quick for a 9-yard completion on a third-and-3, then two plays later found Parker for a 26-yard completion that set up the winning touchdown, a 4-yard run by Brandon Radcliff with 2:47 to play.
For the only time all day, Kentucky couldn't answer. On a fourth-and-11 with less than a minute to play, a desperate Towles heave found the arms of Louisville's Gerod Holliman. Ballgame.
Oh, but what a ballgame.
"Wow," said Louisville Coach Bobby Petrino. "That was wild."
"I thought we were hungry," said UK offensive coordinator Neal Brown. "I thought that was something that was lacking against Tennessee. That's something that we worked on for two straight weeks."
Tired of the doormat role that followed an encouraging 5-1 start, the Cats decided to make their presence felt — even those not playing. Redshirt quarterback Drew Barker, who recently injured his knee, was in the middle of the pre-game confrontations.
Not all the emotion was good, however. Jervontius "Bunchie" Stallings, a redshirt offensive lineman, received a key unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after a UK touchdown for celebrating on the field.
"I told them if they were coming here, they were going to make a difference," Stoops said. "Do I want them on the field? No. That's obviously something we will address."
There will be other problems to address. Brown is headed to Troy to become its head coach. And Stoops also has to replace his best player, Dupree, and several other key members of the defense.
He must also handle the disappointment of ending a once-promising season with a 5-7 record thanks to a six-game losing streak.
"I never hid from the fact that it was important to win one of these games down the stretch," Stoops said. "And we didn't get that done."
At least Saturday, the Cats went down swinging.