The perfect football evening was within grasp for Kentucky.
For the first time in Commonwealth Stadium history, the national spotlight of an ESPN Thursday night telecast was originating from Lexington.
Against Auburn, one of the SEC's tradition-filled football programs, Mark Stoops' Wildcats did not appear physically overmatched.
Just as it was when Kentucky tried to snap its decades-long losing streak to Florida earlier this season, a victory that might turbo-charge Stoops' elevation of UK football was within grasp.
Digital Access For Only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Yet, just as happened in the frustrating loss to Florida, Kentucky again failed to seize a major opportunity on the big stage.
Behind the heady play of quarterback Sean White and the power running of Peyton Barber, Auburn survived Kentucky 30-27 before a Commonwealth crowd of 63,407.
In a desperate situation, Gus Malzahn's Tigers (4-2, 1-2 SEC) gave themselves a chance to right what had been a disappointing season. For Stoops and Kentucky (4-2, 2-2 SEC), it was another maddening case of missing a big opportunity.
"I told our team, is the glass half full or is the glass half empty?" Stoops said. "... Both teams made some competitive plays. They made one more than us and won the game."
Little things again turned into some big disappointment for UK.
Down 14-7, Kentucky lost a potential second-quarter touchdown when Auburn's Carlton Davis intercepted Patrick Towles in the end zone on an attempted slant on first-and-goal from the 8-yard line.
After Auburn converted a field goal to go up 20-10 with 1:37 left in the first half, Kentucky did not manage the clock well. From their 22, the Cats completed a pass for 5 yards, threw an incompletion and took a quarterback sack.
They left Auburn with 47 seconds and a relatively short field. The Tigers converted that into a 52-yard Daniel Carlson field goal on the final play of the first half.
That turned out to be the difference in the game.
The second half brought more frustration.
Kentucky outgained Auburn 257-110 in half two.
After allowing the Tigers to convert eight of 11 third-down conversions in half one, the Kentucky defense gave up only three of seven.
UK seemed to have the momentum throughout half two.
Yet the Cats never got over the hump.
With Kentucky down 23-17, Dorian Baker dropped what would have been a touchdown in the end zone on a back-shoulder fade from Towles. It would have been a tough catch, but it's the kind of play a team has to make to win tough games in the SEC.
Rather than going ahead, Kentucky settled for a field goal and trailed 23-20.
Down 30-20 after a Peyton Barber 3-yard TD run with 7:56 left, Kentucky kept fighting.
A nine-play, 75-yard drive ended with a 1-yard Mikel Horton TD plunge. UK was within 30-27 with 3:57 left.
After surrendering one first down, the Kentucky defense held and got the Cats the ball back with 2:12 left. From their own 15, Kentucky moved to the Auburn 36 with 1:29 left.
However, from there, UK's two-minute offense stalled. An attempt to cross Auburn up with a running play to Boom Williams on second-and-5 gained only 2 yards. A deep pass on third-and-3 was just out of the hands of Jeff Badet.
On fourth down, Towles was sacked.
Shame of it was, everything else about the night broke wonderfully for UK.
A radiant sunshine illuminated Commonwealth as the game began. The ESPN national audience got to see the impact of the $120 million in renovations done to the stadium.
UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart told the UK Radio Network before the game that playing on ESPN on Thursday night was "a chance to celebrate Kentucky."
The some 3,000 UK students who had to move their cars to off-campus satellite parking lots and ride shuttles back to classes may not have felt quite as celebratory about Thursday night football.
But there will be plenty of time to evaluate whether the buzz from appearing nationwide on ESPN on Thursday night football is worth the disruption to campus life.
On one of the bigger TV stages in college football, with eyes around the nation looking in, the Cats proved to be not quite ready for prime time.
"It was a special night, and we were so close," Stoops said. "But we never could quite get over the hump."