UK Football

UK football overcomes Louisiana-Lafayette's rally, prevails 40-33

Kentucky Wildcats running back Mikel Horton (4) went in for the game winning touchdown in the fourth quarter  as Kentucky defeated Louisiana-Lafayette 40-33 on Saturday September 5, 2015 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff
Kentucky Wildcats running back Mikel Horton (4) went in for the game winning touchdown in the fourth quarter as Kentucky defeated Louisiana-Lafayette 40-33 on Saturday September 5, 2015 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff Herald-Leader

All week, coaches stressed to Kentucky that it had one chance to make a good first impression in its opener.

"What kind of first impression do you want to make?" offensive line coach John Schlarman said they asked their players. "In front of the fans, on TV, in front of your family. What do you want to go out there and do? What do you want them to say about you at the end of the day?"

At the end of the day, the sellout crowd of 62,933 likely will talk about the shiny, $126 million renovated Commonwealth Stadium and the storybook stadium start of running back Boom Williams taking the opening play 75 yards for a touchdown.

But those fans can't walk away from the stadium feeling like everything is shiny and happy after Kentucky coughed up a 23-point lead late in the third quarter and things came completely undone.

It took a 12-yard scoring run from unlikely hero Mikel Horton to put the Cats up for good with 57 seconds to play and seal the Kentucky victory 40-33 on Saturday night.

Before the game winner, the sophomore had carried the ball just five times for 16 yards.

Kentucky's final drive got a lucky break when Patrick Towles scooped up a fumbled snap on fourth-and-1 and somehow managed the first down. Then a face-mask and defensive holding penalty kept the Cats alive.

UK needed big plays from defensive veterans in its last stand with Farrington Huguenin batting down a pass and then Josh Forrest picking off a pass near the end zone to seal the victory.

Forrest led the UK defense with 15 tackles, including a sack, a tackle for loss, a pick and three pass breakups.

It was a picture-perfect start to the opener with UK racing out to a 21-0 advantage and leading by as many as 23 points, 33-10 late in the third quarter.

Then things got interesting when back-to-back monster touchdown runs by Torrey Pierce cut the Cats' lead to 33-25 early in the fourth quarter.

Then quarterback Jalen Nixon ran 23 yards into the end zone before a two-point conversion by Elijah McGuire tied it up 33-33 with 7:36 left to play.

UK carried a 24-7 lead into the half, with Towles hitting five different receivers for at least one 29-yard pass before the break.

Kentucky's second and third scoring drives were for 95 and 99 yards, respectively.

The Cats' third touchdown, a 37-yard pass to Jeff Badet, was set up by big catches, first a 29-yarder by Dorian Baker and then immediately followed by a 28-yarder by Blake Bone.

It's part of the UK plan this season, Towles said late in fall camp.

"We're going to have to throw the ball vertical," the quarterback said. "We're going to do that every single game. That's our thing."

Kentucky had receiving touchdowns from Garrett Johnson, Bone and Badet.

After UK grabbed a 21-0 edge in the second quarter, Louisiana scored its first touchdown of game on a 4-yard quarterback run by Brooks Haack on what initially looked like a busted play.

For the game, the teams were almost even offensively, with the Cats managing 435 yards to 479 for the Cajuns. Louisiana-Lafayette, which had just 83 yards on the ground at halftime, ran for 163 in the second half.

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