It looked like more of the same. Arkansas had just marched on a 20-play, 87-yard drive that ate up nearly 10 minutes of clock to take a 20-7 lead with 10 minutes left, and Bobby Petrino seemed ready to walk out of Commonwealth Stadium with his fifth straight victory over Kentucky and Rich Brooks Saturday night.
Then the script went through a metamorphosis that nobody could have predicted. The 70,534 fans in attendance didn't see it coming, as about half of them made an early exit. Petrino probably didn't see it coming, either.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Lexington Herald-Leader
But the beleaguered Cats, fresh off a heartbreaking 24-17 loss to South Carolina last week, dug deep and came up with a pair of Mike Hartline-to-Randall Cobb touchdown passes in the final 4:15 to earn a miraculous 21-20 come-from-behind win. It tied for the largest fourth-quarter comeback in UK football history, going back to 2004 when Shane Boyd led the Wildcats back from a 13-0 deficit to beat Vanderbilt 14-13.
"I told them in the locker room football is a reflection of life in a lot of ways," Brooks said. "When it's the very darkest and the very worst, you have to keep on believing because giving up is not an answer, it's not an alternative. But then to actually make it happen and make those words real, I'm very proud of them."
The comeback put UK at 5-2 overall and gave them their first win in three Southeastern Conference games. It also perhaps saved the Cats' season as they travel to No. 5 Florida next week.
Brooks summed up the biggest element of the come-from-behind win.
"Our players believed they could do it," he said.
After Shay Haddock's 23-yard field gave the Hogs a 20-7 lead with 10 minutes remaining, Kentucky failed to pick up a first down on its next possession and turned the ball over on downs when Cobb was dropped for a 2-yard loss on a fourth- and-2 screen pass from midfield.
Then the tide started to change. Arkansas junior tailback Michael Smith, who ran for 192 yards on 35 carries and also caught a 21-yard touchdown pass from Casey Dick, was forced to leave the game with an injury.
Backup tailback De'Anthony Curtis coughed it up at the Arkansas 41 with 4:47 left, and Johnny Williams recovered. That play seemed to rejuvenate the Wildcats.
"Once we got a spark, everything picked up on the field and on the sidelines," Brooks said.
"We had too much pride to give up," said UK junior defensive end Jeremy Jarmon. "Guys were tired, guys were hurt, and that long drive frustrated us, but we knew we had to go back out there and try to make a play. When we got that fumble, I knew we'd have a chance to win it."
Hartline then hit Cobb on a 32-yard TD pass with 4:15 left to cut the deficit to 20-14.
The UK defense held, and Cobb returned the punt to the Arkansas 35. Hartline then connected with Alfonso Smith over the middle for a 14-yard gain, and Cobb broke free over the middle and Hartline hit him in stride for a 21-yard touchdown pass. Lones Seiber connected on the go-ahead extra point, sending the remaining fans into a frenzy.
The UK defense was on the field for 80 plays and 36 minutes and it gave up 330 yards. But it also made several big plays, recovering a fumble at its own 1-yard line in the first half and keeping the Hogs out of the end zone on that late drive that kept its comeback hopes alive.
"It's a testament to the character of our players," defensive coordinator Steve Brown said. "It's a great life lesson. No matter how bleak things might seem, you've got to keep churning and churning."
The Wildcats started the game with three true freshmen at wide receiver (Cobb, Aaron Boyd and Eric Adeyemi) and its two tailbacks (Derrick Locke and Smith) lined up in a split backfield, but those changes didn't provide the offense with any early spark. UK went three-and-out on its first possession, but David Jones picked off Dick at the UK 4-yard line to stave off a scoring threat.
The Cats gave the ball right back, though, when Hartline was picked off at his own 9. Smith then scored on a 2-yard run to give the Hogs a 7-0 lead at the 8:09 mark,
The UK offense set up the Hogs for another score when Locke fumbled at his own 18 after catching a short pass from Hartline. Dick hit Smith over the middle, and Smith outran linebacker Sam Maxwell for a 21-yard touchdown to put the Razorbacks up 14-0 with 1:15 left before halftime.
Smith, a 5-foot-7, 173-pound junior with a quick burst through the hole, had 175 all-purpose yards in the first half, including 114 yards rushing on 16 carries.
The Wildcats walked off the field to boos at intermission.
The third quarter saw the special teams break down. The defense forced an Arkansas punt on the first series of the second half, but the ball bounced off DeMoreo Ford at the UK 7 and the Hogs recovered. That led to a 19-yard field goal by Shay Haddock to make it 17-0.
The offense finally produced on its next series. Hartline threw a pass to Smith in the right flat, and Smith outraced the Arkansas defense 71 yards to the end zone to bring UK to within 17-7.
"That was huge," Brooks said. "Once he got a step, I knew he was gone."
After the game, the Razorbacks felt a lot like Kentucky did after last week's South Carolina game.
"Saying we gave this game away is an understatement," Arkansas center Jonathan Luigs said. "We had (Kentucky) right where we wanted them, had them where they were about to quit. Somehow they found their way back in the game. It's a tough one to swallow."
"That's a hard one on us," Petrino said. "We had a lot of chances to win that football game. Give credit to Kentucky, they hung in there and made the plays at the end of the game and we didn't."
Brooks had a quick response when he was asked about UK's history of losing games like this.
"These guys weren't here 25-30 years ago," Brooks said. "They don't believe in all that junk. We've made enough plays here and had enough hard-fought close games where we played well or maybe didn't play so well. The games are won by what you do on the field, not an aura or a hex."