Mark Story

Ranking the 50 best Kentucky football wins of all time: Nos. 40-31

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The crowd stormed the field to help the Kentucky football team celebrated its victory against Mississippi State on Saturday night in Lexington.
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The crowd stormed the field to help the Kentucky football team celebrated its victory against Mississippi State on Saturday night in Lexington.

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Kentucky’s 50 Best All-Time Football Wins

Mark Story, sports columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader and Kentucky.com, is counting down the 50 best wins in University of Kentucky football history. Click below to view previous installments of this five-part series.


Historically, following Kentucky football has not been for the faint of heart.

The pigskin Cats have an all-time losing record (616-621-44). A member of the Southeastern Conference since 1933, UK has endured 15 seasons in which it did not win a league game. Conversely, Kentucky has had only eight years with a winning mark in SEC contests.

Yet, even amid ample suffering, the football Wildcats have produced moments of exhilaration, too. This summer, for both the fun and challenge of it, I set out to rank the 50 best Kentucky Wildcats football wins of all time.

All-time, Kentucky has 44 victories over ranked foes, 13 over top-10 teams — and three over opponents who entered the game ranked No. 1 in the country.

UK has won nine bowl games, two of them major bowls. The Cats have beaten teams that went on to win an SEC Division championship three times and beaten the teams that won the overall SEC league title twice.

Twice, Kentucky has beaten the football teams that went on to be recognized as the national champion.

Any list such as this is subjective, of course. My list of the 50 best Kentucky Wildcats football wins is filled with games that featured:

1.) major UK upsets; 2.) victories over teams that went on to have stellar seasons; 3.) victories that ended the decades-plus losing streaks vs. opponents that have been a frustrating part of “the Kentucky football experience;” 4.) bowl wins; 5.) victories in rivalry games; 6.) wins with memorable finishes.

On the countdown of Kentucky’s 50 Best All-Time Football Wins, here are numbers 40 through 31:

40

The game: Kentucky 25, East Carolina 19, 2008 season’s Liberty Bowl

The plot: Two plays after a potential go-ahead touchdown on a fumble return by Micah Johnson was overturned by a replay official, Ventrell Jenkins scooped up another ECU miscue and returned it 56 yards for the game-winning TD with 3:02 left.

Why the game mattered: For the first time in school history — and still the only time — Kentucky won bowl games in three straight seasons.

Lexington newspaper headline: Cats hit historic high: Second fumble return counts as Cats grab 3rd trophy in row

UK coach: Rich Brooks

Ventrell Jenkins Liberty Bowl winner.JPG
Kentucky's Ventrell Jenkins, second from left, carried the football on what became the 56-yard, fumble-return touchdown that gave Kentucky a 25-19 win over East Carolina in the Liberty Bowl at the end of the 2008 season.

39

The game: Kentucky 21, LSU 13, 1983 regular season

The plot: Franklin-Simpson High School products Kerry Baird (35-yard interception return) and Joker Phillips (catches of 6 and 12 yards) scored all three Kentucky touchdowns and the Tiger Stadium crowd of 77,765 booed LSU off the field.

Joker as player.JPG
Joker Phillips caught two touchdown passes in UK's 21-13 upset of LSU at Tiger Stadium in 1983. Lexington Herald-Leader Lexington Herald-Leader

Why the game mattered: The pivotal win that launched Kentucky — 0-10-1 the prior season — to a winning season (6-5-1) and a berth in the Hall of Fame Bowl.

Lexington newspaper headline: Wildcats rebound, beat LSU 21-13

UK coach: Jerry Claiborne

38

The game: No. 21 Kentucky 42, Arkansas 29, 2007 regular season

The plot: Trailing 29-21, Kentucky scored 21 straight points in the final 7:59 of the game as Andre Woodson threw for a touchdown and ran for one and fourth-string, true freshman tailback Derrick Locke also ran for a score.

Why the game mattered: A road victory over the defending SEC West champions.

Lexington newspaper headline: Cats’ strike ‘Backs: UK scores final 21 points behind Woodson, Locke

UK coach: Rich Brooks

Trevard Lindley fumbe return Arkansas.JPG
Kentucky cornerback Trevard Lindley returned a fumble for a second quarter touchdown in UK's 42-29 win over defending SEC West champion Arkansas in 2007.

37

The game: Kentucky 68, Louisville 34, 1998 regular season

The plot: Tim Couch threw for 498 yards and seven touchdowns and UK rolled up a staggering 801 yards of total offense in a Governor’s Cup rout.

Why the game mattered: Kentucky ruined the inaugural game in Louisville’s Cardinal Stadium and John L. Smith’s debut as U of L head coach.

Lexington newspaper headline: Couch makes a statement as Cats blast Cards, 68-34

UK coach: Hal Mumme

Couch and captains 1998 U of L.JPG
Kentucky team captain Tim Couch (2) greeted Louisville’s Rick Nord (70) prior to the opening coin toss before the first game ever played at U of L's Cardinal Stadium on Sept. 5, 1998. UK won the game 68-34. DAVID PERRY LEXINGTON HERALD-LEADER

36

The game: Kentucky 28, No. 14 Mississippi State 7, 2018 regular season

The plot: Benny Snell ran for 165 yards and four touchdowns and a Josh Allen-led UK defense held MSU dual-threat quarterback Nick Fitzgerald to 20 yards rushing and 16-of-32 passing.

Why the game mattered: UK started its SEC schedule 2-0 for the first time since 1977.

Lexington newspaper headline: Cats pound Dogs: Snell, UK make quite a statement with upset over MSU

UK coach: Mark Stoops

UK tight end CJ Conrad talks about his acrobatic catch, Benny Snell and the togetherness of this UK football team after Saturday's victory.

35

The game: Kentucky 22, No. 17 Louisville 17, 2002 regular season

The plot: A physical UK defensive front led by Dewayne Robertson and Vincent “Sweet Pea” Burns harried Louisville quarterback Dave Ragone into a nightmare (14-of-39 passing) and UK used two Taylor Begley field goals to rally from 17-16 down.

Why the game mattered: Kentucky wins the first UK-U of L game in which the Cardinals were nationally ranked.

Lexington newspaper headline: Defense rattles Ragone’s cage in season-opening stunner

UK coach: Guy Morriss

Guy Morriss after beating U of L.JPG
Kentucky Coach Guy Morriss celebrated after the Wildcats upset No. 17 Louisville 22-17 in the 2002 season opener. CHARLES BERTRAM LEXINGTON HERALD-LEADER

34

The game: Kentucky 16, No. 11 Georgia 10, 1988 regular season

The plot: Georgia native Alfred Rawls ran for 128 yards and put Kentucky ahead 13-10 with a 48-yard touchdown run on the final play of the third quarter, while a Randy Holleran-led defense held the Bulldogs to 224 yards total offense.

Why the game mattered: UK’s first victory over a ranked SEC foe in 11 years.

Lexington newspaper headline: UK stuns No. 11 Georgia 16-10: Cats solve puzzle as Rawls runs wild

UK coach: Jerry Claiborne

Alfred Rawls game winner vs Georgia.JPG
Kentucky's Alfred Rawls (23) on what became the game-winning touchdown run in UK's 16-10 upset of No. 11 Georgia in 1988.

33

The game: Kentucky 22, No. 20 Penn State 6, 1976 regular season

The plot: The largest home crowd in UK football history to that time (57,733) watched Derrick Ramsey run for two touchdowns and a ground-hugging Wildcats attack (school-record 75 rushes) outgain Joe Paterno’s Nittany Lions 429-212.

Why the game mattered: Was the biggest-name, non-SEC opponent ever beaten by UK in the facility formerly known as Commonwealth Stadium — and still is.

Lexington newspaper headline: Aroused Kentucky whips Penn State

UK coach: Fran Curci

Curci and Warren Bryant.JPG
Former Kentucky head coach Fran Curci, shown here with star offensive lineman Warren Bryant in 1976, led the Wildcats against Penn State four times in the 1970s. In 1976, UK beat the Nittany Lions 22-6 at Commonwealth Stadium. E. Martin Jessee Herald-Leader

32

The game: No. 19 Kentucky 19, No. 12 Rice 13, 1953 regular season

The plot: UK’s Joe Platt returned one of his two interceptions 50 yards for a touchdown and Wildcats quarterback Bob Hardy ran for a team-high 46 yards and threw for 97 more.

Why the game mattered: It was Kentucky’s third straight win in the state of Texas (1952 at Texas A&M and Cotton Bowl over TCU after 1951 season).

Lexington newspaper headline: Kentucky scores twice in third period to hand favored Rice 19-13 setback

UK coach: Bear Bryant

Bob Hardy in 2009.JPG
Former Kentucky Wildcats quarterback Bob Hardy, left, one of the stars of UK's 1953 upset of No. 12 Rice, was honored at the 2009 Governor's Cup Luncheon. A Paducah product, Hardy died in 2016 at age 83.

31

The game: Kentucky 28, No. 10 Georgia 10, 1965 regular season

The plot: Rick Norton threw for three touchdowns and Rodger Bird ran for one — all four scores in the second quarter — as the Wildcats rallied from 10-0 down before a sellout crowd of 37,000 at Stoll Field.

Charlie Bradshaw.JPG
In 1965, Charlie Bradshaw coached Kentucky to its first football victory over Georgia in Lexington since 1949. UK Special Collections

Why the game mattered: UK’s first victory over Georgia in Lexington since 1949.

Lexington newspaper headline: UK contains scoring to 2nd period in 28-10 triumph over Georgia

UK coach: Charlie Bradshaw

(All newspaper headlines cited are from the Lexington Herald-Leader and/or its predecessors).

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About this series

Mark Story, sports columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader and Kentucky.com, is counting down the 50 best wins in University of Kentucky football history. Victories 50 through 41 were published online Monday and in Tuesday’s print edition. Watch for Nos. 30-21 online Wednesday and in Thursday’s print edition.

Mark Story has worked in the Lexington Herald-Leader sports department since Aug. 27, 1990, and has been a Herald-Leader sports columnist since 2001. I have covered every Kentucky-Louisville football game since 1994, every UK-U of L basketball game but three since 1996-97 and every Kentucky Derby since 1994.
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