UK Football

Cats snap SEC road losing streak dating to 2009 with 26-22 win over South Carolina

Kentucky Wildcats linebacker Josh Forrest (45) and Kentucky Wildcats safety Marcus McWilson (15) gestured to the quiet South Carolina fans  as Kentucky defeated South Carolina 26-22 on Saturday September 12, 2015 in  Columbia, SC. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff
Kentucky Wildcats linebacker Josh Forrest (45) and Kentucky Wildcats safety Marcus McWilson (15) gestured to the quiet South Carolina fans as Kentucky defeated South Carolina 26-22 on Saturday September 12, 2015 in Columbia, SC. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff Herald-Leader

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Mark Stoops didn't hide from the record that has been hanging over Kentucky like a dark cloud for seasons.

Early in the week, the UK coach reminded his players that the Cats had 22 straight losses on the road dating back to 2010.

The numbers were worse in Southeastern Conference play with the Cats failing to get anything going on the road since Nov. 21, 2009 when they knocked off Georgia.

Facts are facts, Stoops argued.

He wanted to "challenge our team and see what we will do, what little extras we will do to prepare ourselves both mentally and physically to go in there and go into that environment and try to get a victory," he said.

It wasn't pretty, especially in the second half, but Kentucky broke that streak with a 26-22 win at South Carolina on Saturday night with huge offensive play in the first half and even bigger plays by the defense in the second half to hold on.

The streak ended on Saturday at South Carolina, a place Kentucky hadn't won at in 15 years. There were 1,834 days between road victories and 2,121 days between conference road victories.

The Cats (2-0) will try to end another streak next weekend at Commonwealth Stadium when they face Florida, which owns a 28-game win streak over Kentucky, the longest in the nation. The Gators needed three overtimes to escape UK last season at The Swamp.

After a slow start, Kentucky raced ahead of South Carolina in the first half, grabbing a 24-7 lead before the offensive sputtered in the second half with four straight three-and-outs while the Gamecocks (1-1) roared back.

After falling behind 7-0, the Cats scored 24 straight points in the first half. First, they marched the ball 80 yards in 4:07 to even it up 7-7 on Mikel Horton's 8-yard run.

The drive included a dice-rolling fourth-and-4 at the Gamecocks' 39 that Patrick Towles appeared to change at the line of scrimmage. He hit Garrett Johnson for a 19-yard completion to continue the scoring drive.

Jojo Kemp — he of the Wildcat formation with three touchdowns and 131 yards against the Gamecocks last season — needed no such trickery to score this time.

The junior went 2 yards for the touchdown to put UK up 14-7 late in the first quarter (with Jacob Hyde getting the nod at fullback) for Kemp's first points since that game against the Gamecocks.

After struggling to throw together a drive of more than 3:40 in the opener against Louisiana-Lafayette, the Cats managed two sustained drives in the first half of four minutes or more, including one that went 6:45.

Kentucky managed a 24-7 lead at the break behind a balanced attack that included 25 runs for 156 yards and 17 passes for 151 yards. In all, the Cats outgained the Gamecocks 307-161.

Much like the first half — and the season opener before it — the second half did not start well for Kentucky with back-to-back series that went three and out.

The Kentucky defense bent, but didn't break, allowing two Elliott Fry field goals that got the Gamecocks, playing without starting quarterback Connor Mitch (sprained shoulder), within 24-13.

The third quarter stats were ugly for Kentucky, with South Carolina winning the yardage battle 136-22.

A J.D. Harmon open-field tackle helped halt a score near the goal line for South Carolina to open the fourth quarter and the Gamecocks once again had to settle for a Fry field goal, this one from 21 yards.

South Carolina got within two points, 24-22, on a 33-yard pass from backup quarterback Perry Orth to Jerrell Adams.

But the two-point conversion, in the sure hands of South Carolina star Pharoh Cooper, was knocked loose on the two-point conversion try and it was picked up by redshirt freshman Denzil Ware, who ran it back 98 yards for UK's only points of the second half to extend the Kentucky lead to 26-22 with 8:09 to go.

Another huge defensive stop, this time a pick from true freshman cornerback Chris Westry, stopped another South Carolina drive that looked headed for the end zone. It was his first career pick.

Kentucky was outgained 417-399 for the game and 246-92 in the second half.

Towles finished the game completing 21 of 29 passes with one interception. UK's Stanley "Boom" Williams had 107 yards on 14 carries in the win and Kemp added 78 yards and a score.

Khalid Henderson led the defense with 10 tackles and a hurry. A.J. Stamps added nine tackles.

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