UK Football

UK football notes: Stoops says ugly win a character builder

Kentucky's Mikel Horton (4) was greeted by Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops after he scored the game winning touchdown.  Kentucky defeated Louisiana-Lafayette 40-33 in  Commonwealth Stadium, Lexington Ky, on Saturday September 5, 2015.  Photo by Mark Mahan
Kentucky's Mikel Horton (4) was greeted by Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops after he scored the game winning touchdown. Kentucky defeated Louisiana-Lafayette 40-33 in Commonwealth Stadium, Lexington Ky, on Saturday September 5, 2015. Photo by Mark Mahan Herald-Leader

Mark Stoops knows that there will be people upset about the second half of Kentucky's 40-33 victory over Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday night.

They'll be worried and wonder how UK went up by 23 points before nearly losing the game in the second half.

But Stoops isn't worried about the margin of victory or the need to come from behind. He was just happy to walk away with the win, snapping the Cats' six-game losing streak dating back to last year.

"We felt a big obligation to play a good football game and win this game," Stoops said. "So I'm not going to let the fact that it got a little sloppy in the second half take away from that. It's a victory. We're always going to be grateful for victories."

The head coach called it a "character-building" victory for his players, who will have a lot of teaching points available from the film.

Offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson concurred. "There's a lot of positives we can take out of this game and a lot of negatives," he said.

Stoops seemed pleased to be in a difficult game and come out on the positive side of it. "They flipped the script on us," he said. "The game's never going to go exactly as planned."

What did go exactly as planned for the head coach, anyway, was the pregame festivities. The sellout crowd of 62,933 Stoops asked for in the weeks leading up to the grand unveiling of Commonwealth Stadium.

He called the massive Cat Walk that greeted the team as it entered the stadium a "building block" for the program.

"Walking in here and the atmosphere in that Cat Walk was amazing," Stoops said. "Believe me, that is a building block for our program. That kind of passion, that kind of energy from our fan base will do nothing but help us. Help build this program, help attract top quality athletes and inspire the players we have right now."

No doubts

Not even for a second did Mikel Horton think Kentucky was going to lose the game. Not even for a millisecond.

"Losing never crossed my mind to be honest with you," said Horton, who had the 12-yard touchdown run in the final minute to put Kentucky back on top. "We worked so hard through summer and spring and we had an opportunity to show what we worked for."

He said there wasn't anything special about the run, he just tried to do exactly what his coaches had told him to do.

In the huddle, he looked in the eyes of the UK offensive lineman.

"I was talking to our offensive line, and said I wanted to get in the end zone, so they did a heck of a job," said Horton, who said it was his first go-ahead touchdown since high school.

It was a heck of a run for Horton, too, his head coach said. "The run by Mikel at the end of the game there was impressive," Stoops said. "He had a great desire to get in the end zone."

Recruits on campus

Five-star offensive tackle Jedrick Wills was among the visiting recruits Saturday for UK's home opener against Louisiana-Lafayette.

Wills — a standout for Lafayette High School — is ranked by Rivals.com as the No. 13 overall prospect in the class of 2017. He has scholarship offers from Alabama, Florida State, Notre Dame, Ohio State and several other major programs. He is UK's top recruiting target for 2017.

Class of 2016 commitments Kash Daniel, Tobias Gilliam, Gunnar Hoak, Drake Jackson and Landon Young were among the other recruits spotted on the field before Saturday's game. Stoops gave Jackson a big hug as he walked onto the field about an hour before kickoff.

Lafayette quarterback Walker Wood — a class of 2017 prospect — also visited Saturday. Rivals.com ranks Wood as the No. 2 junior in the state behind Wills. He's the No. 14 dual-threat quarterback nationally for the class of 2017.

Extra special guests

A night that was filled with lots of pomp and circumstance also featured some special quiet moments.

The flag football teams from Special Olympics Kentucky that joined the UK team a couple of weeks ago for drills and practice were introduced to the crowd at Commonwealth Stadium in the second half.

UK put out the pre-game smoke machines and let the Special Olympians come out of the team's tunnel during the victory.

Staff writer Ben Roberts contributed to this report.

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