Austin MacGinnis made sure he had his picture taken with the Governor’s Cup Trophy in the Kentucky locker room.
“It’s too heavy for me to carry myself,” the UK kicker said laughing.
But he carried what seemed like a much heavier load with him onto the field with 12 seconds left and a chance to win the game with a 47-yard field goal at Louisville.
Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops said he “was numb” when MacGinnis lined up for the kick. He said nothing to the kicker.
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Several UK players turned their back and waited for the reaction from the Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium crowd.
Not linebacker Jordan Jones.
“Just told all the guys, I knew Austin had a great leg, told the guys just to have a little faith; it’s going to go in,” Jones said.
UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart, who had a bad angle in a corner of the end zone, said he just watched MacGinnis.
“When Austin threw his hands up, I knew we were good,” Barnhart said of the kick that ended the Cats’ five-game losing streak to Louisville. “He knew he nailed it.”
MacGinnis definitely knew.
“As soon as I looked up, it was going down the pipes and I was excited,” he said. “Best feeling I’ve had on a football field. This one tops the other one for sure. To get the win in the home state, there’s nothing like it.”
It was MacGinnis’ second game winner of the season after he hit a 51-yarder to top Mississippi State on Oct. 22.
As soon as Kentucky linebacker Courtney Love secured the fumble, MacGinnis said he started thinking about the part he might play in a victory.
“I was like, ‘All right. I’m going to have to kick it,’” he said. “You have to put that in your mind. You can’t expect a touchdown and not be ready to kick. As soon as we got that fumble, I knew my team was going to give me a chance.”
Kentucky’s junior kicker, who has hit five of six from 40 or more yards this season, thanked Tristan Yeomans (holder) and Blake Best (long snapper) for helping the kick go through.
“I drag them out over the summer every day, make sure we work hard for moments like this,” he said. “This is a great feeling.”
A recruiting boost
The upset victory over No. 11 Louisville was good for Kentucky’s present, but it also could be vital to the Cats’ future, Stoops said after the win.
“It’s a significant win,” Stoops said. “Our players deserved it, our fan base did, our administration. Like I said, we poured a lot into this. It’s not easy. So, it’s a giant step in the right direction.”
It also coincides with the Kentucky coaches spending the next seven to 10 days on the road recruiting.
Stoops said he hits the road recruiting at 10:30 on Sunday.
“I’ll be smiling,” he said with a smile on his face. “I’ll be smiling. But I’m taking off tomorrow morning and won’t be back till Friday. We’re hitting the pavement hard. We got to keep getting some good players.”
Kentucky recruiting coordinator Vince Marrow apparently will be doing more than smiling.
“I’ll feel like an 8-year old kid at Christmas,” he said of having seven wins and a bowl trip to sell on the road in the upcoming days. “It’s just for our whole administration, the team, this was big for us. Big for Lexington. We’ve been down and out. It’s a new beginning now, and we’re selling that.”
Looking ahead to bowls
Kentucky’s postseason destination likely won’t be clear for another week, but the win likely will help the Cats standing in the group of six available bowls in the Southeastern Conference’s second tier.
After the initial Sugar Bowl, Orange Bowl and Citrus Bowl are filled, the league assigns teams to the next six bowls.
“I think we’ll go do the best we can to go find a bowl that will fit hopefully what we’ve accomplished,” Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart said after the Cats’ 41-38 upset win at No. 11 Louisville on Saturday. “I think that will be something our fan base can jump on board and be a part of. I’m excited about that.”
Barnhart, who will get to make recommendations to the SEC about where the Cats want to play, said he has two goals in doing that.
“One, the best we can do for our team, and I want it to be something our fans can get to and go enjoy this team,” he said. “They’re fun to watch.”
The six main bowl options include: Texas Bowl at Houston (Dec. 28, 9 p.m.); Liberty Bowl at Memphis (Dec. 30, Noon); Belk Bowl at Charlotte, N.C. (Dec. 29, 5:30 p.m.); Music City Bowl at Nashville (Dec. 30, 3:30 p.m.); Outback Bowl at Tampa, Fla. (Jan. 2, 1 p.m.); TaxSlayer Bowl at Jacksonville, Fla. (Dec. 31, 11 a.m.)
Stoops admitted he had to make some calls this week to his brother Bob Stoops at Oklahoma and Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher to get their general practice schedule for bowls.
“His secretary said he got a big kick out of that,” said Stoops, who plans to give the team next week off. He said the team will lift and run before beginning some bowl work.
Linebacker Courtney Love got his first career fumble recovery at UK at the most opportune time, grabbing it out of the hands of Louisville’s Lamar Jackson.
“I was trying to wrap up Lamar and he kind of got away a little bit and he fumbled,” Love said. “I just thought, ‘I’ve got to get this ball and hold on for dear life.’ It was tough holding onto it.”
Jordan Jones, who led UK with 10 tackles including two for loss, spied the loose ball in Love’s grasp and reached through the pile to push it deeper into his teammate’s arms.
It was one of four turnovers forced by the Cats on Saturday, including two picks for Mike Edwards and another for Blake McClain.
Edwards had a key interception on the final drive, plucking it out of a crowd to seal the victory.
“I saw him scrambling around, so I tried to find the open man,” said Edwards, who has three picks in the last two games. “Ball’s in the air, and I was like, ‘That’s mine,’ and I went to go get it.”
News and notes
▪ Kentucky will pay Stoops $250,000 in bonuses as part of the incentives clause in his contract for getting a seventh win in the season.
▪ Running back Boom Williams, who had 14 carries for 63 yards and a touchdown in the win, went out late in the game with what appeared to be a leg injury. He said after the game that he was “fine.”
▪ UK has 2,895 rushing yards this season, the most since 1976 when the Cats had 2,960.