For a Kentucky kicker who has nailed multiple game winners, an extra point on Saturday felt unnecessarily scary.
“I’ve never been more nervous for an extra point in my whole life,” Austin MacGinnis said with a smile after Kentucky’s 40-34 victory over Missouri in which the senior became the Cats’ career scoring leader.
The extra point that would help MacGinnis pass Lones Seiber in the UK record book had a little extra drama attached to it as officials stopped play to make sure running back Benny Snell hadn’t gone out of bounds on his long touchdown run down the Kroger Field sideline.
To make matters worse, MacGinnis said his teammates reminded him of the weight of the kick.
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“Oh, I knew,” he laughed. “They made sure. My snapper and holder Tristan (Yeomans) and Blake (Best) were like, ‘This is the one. This is the one.’”
Finally setting the new career mark of 306 points was “awesome,” said MacGinnis, who scored 16 points in the Kentucky win, making all four of his field goal attempts and all four extra points.
By the end of all that, MacGinnis had 314 career points and he has several more weeks to add to that tally.
“Puts a smile on my face,” he said. “Hopefully I can keep raising the bar so it can last a few years after I leave.”
While the extra point was a bit stressful for MacGinnis, he said he did everything possible to block out what should have been the most stressful point of the night when the senior was called on to kick the go-ahead 53-yarder to break a 34-34 tie with 9:40 to play.
It was made more difficult by a medical incident on the UK sideline when backup quarterback Luke Wright had to be carted off on a stretcher for an undisclosed issue.
“I honestly didn’t know what had happened with Luke before the kick,” MacGinnis said. “I knew that I was going to have to kick. I wanted to stay focused. I knew something bad had happened, but I found out after that.”
Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops said he was proud of MacGinnis.
“And what about the 53-yarder he made again in a tie game? That was a big kick and he’s meant a lot to our program and been steady and I wouldn’t trade him,” Stoops said.
Quarterback Stephen Johnson didn’t sound ready to trade MacGinnis either.
“We call him ‘Mr. Ice in His Veins,’” Johnson said. “He’s just a phenom when it comes to kicking. He’s unmatched in what he does and he doesn’t flinch at all. I’m really glad we’ve got him on our team.”
Other special teams stars
Much like it did the week before, Kentucky’s special teams unit had huge plays that helped change the game, most notably a fake punt that linebacker Kash Daniel turned into a first down.
And Lonnie Johnson got a huge block of a 45-yard field that would have tied the game 37-37 with six minutes to go.
Both were a long time coming, special teams coach Dean Hood said.
While the blocked kick was a key turning point, Hood noted that his group has been altering kicks all season even if it’s not evident to the naked eye.
“He’s been affecting kickers all year long,” Hood said of Johnson, who got a hand on the kick by making his body nearly horizontal with the field. “I think for what he’s put on film, he and (Darius) West and some of the others have been coming really hard, the inside guys like Adrian Middleton’s got a block in the middle, I think what those guys are putting on film about how hard they come after a kicker, I think we’ve created a lot of misses on some kickers throughout the year.
“Some kicks that normally hit are suddenly wide left or wide right and I think our kids have done a great job of putting effort on film and getting inside the head of some of the guys we’ve played.”
As for the fake punt, which Daniel ran six yards for a first down at midfield, Stoops credited Hood.
“Dean, luckily the gut was right again, but I was hesitant and he said, ‘What do you think? and I said, ‘Do it,’” Stoops said. “And it worked. So that was big. It was a big play in the game.”
It’s a play that’s been months in the making, noted Daniel, who had plenty of running experience as a Mr. Everything at Paintsville.
“Coach Hood knows about me playing quarterback and running the football and I remember when he first came here, he said, ‘I’m putting you in position back there at punt because I know you can protect good and I know you can run the ball,’” Daniel relayed. “I was like, ‘Hmm. You’ve got my attention.’”
‘He would be very proud’
There was an extra special someone in the stands for Stoops on Saturday: his former high school head coach, Don Bucci.
The Cardinal Mooney athletics director, who was head coach when Stoops and his brothers played at the school for their father and defensive coordinator Ron Stoops Sr., was at Kroger Field for the victory.
“He was the head coach that my father worked for, for 30 years,” Stoops said of his father, who passed away of a heart attack during a game. “He was tough as nails.”
Bucci was a strict disciplinarian, but he also was close friends with the Stoops family. The two large families used to vacation together at the lake in the summer, Bucci told the Herald-Leader this summer.
Mark Stoops took a trip down memory lane during the postgame news conference, talking about both Bucci and his father.
“Coach Bucci is one of the most disciplined, hard working, tough coaches you have ever been around,” Stoops said. “The honest to God truth, we would practice for three and a half hours a night and it would be pitch dark and people would put their headlights on — and that’s no exaggeration you ask anybody who went to my school — that’s just the way it was.”
It was Bucci’s first trip to see Stoops coach at Kentucky.
“I just saw him walking off the field,” the UK coach said. “Glad to have coach here and I wish my father was with him, but I’m sure he’s got a good seat up there, but, yeah, he would be very proud.”