Mark Story

You say UK football never gets a break from SEC refs? Try telling Missouri that.

It has long been an article of faith among The Long Suffering UK Football Fans that the Wildcats do not get the breaks from SEC officiating.

You will have a hard time convincing Missouri of that.

As Mizzou (5-2, 2-1 SEC) prepares to come to Lexington to face UK (3-4, 1-4 SEC) Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. at Kroger Field, Coach Barry Odom’s Tigers will be seeking to snap a four-game losing skid against Mark Stoops and troops.

In each of its two most recent losses to Kentucky, Missouri felt like actions taken/not taken by SEC officials played a substantial role in the outcomes.

Two seasons ago here in Lexington, Kentucky was clinging to a 40-34 lead after an Austin MacGinnis field goal with 1:48 left.

Taking the football at the Missouri 25, Tigers quarterback Drew Lock led Mizzou on a last-gasp drive.

Missouri had reached the Kentucky 28-yard line inside the game’s final 30 seconds, when Lock hit wide receiver J’Mon Moore on a drag route.

Moore was tackled in bounds by UK’s Lonnie Johnson for only a 1-yard gain to the 27. As the play ended, there were around 20 seconds left. The clock was running.

Missouri rushed back to the line of scrimmage. Moore raced with the ball toward an official.

However, Kentucky’s Josh Allen knocked the ball from Moore’s hands. The ball squirted to a stop near the UK 20. The game officials moved at a deliberate pace in retrieving the ball.

By the time the officials finally got the ball set so Missouri could snap it and Lock got it spiked, there were only three seconds left.

Lock’s final pass to Albert Okwuegbunam fell incomplete.

Mizzou felt it had been cheated out of the chance to run several more plays. Subsequently, the Southeastern Conference office confirmed that.

“After postgame video review and discussion with the on-field officials, it was determined the officials did not see the ball dislodged by an opposing player as the Missouri receiver attempted to return the ball directly to the official,” the SEC said in a statement. “Had that action been seen by the officials in real time, the clock would have been stopped at approximately 0:16 seconds and restarted on the ready for play signal.”

Last year in Columbia, it was Kentucky trailing late and attempting final-drive salvation. UK was behind 14-9 when it took over the ball with 1:24 left in the game at its own 19-yard line.

Wildcats’ QB Terry Wilson hit two passes each to Lynn Bowden and David Bouvier and one to Josh Ali to move the Cats to a first-and-goal at the Mizzou 9-yard line.

There were only four seconds left in the game.

With the game hanging in the balance, Kentucky sent 6-foot-5, 238-pound former Iowa Hawkeyes power forward Ahmad Wagner on a fade pattern to the left corner of the end zone.

As time expired, Wagner caught Wilson’s pass — but did so clearly out of bounds.

Missouri’s victory celebration was short circuited, however, by a yellow flag lying on the Faurot Field turf.

Tigers cornerback DeMarkus Acy had been called for pass interference against Wagner.

The penalty gave Kentucky the ball at the Mizzou 2-yard line for one untimed down.

Wilson utilized that last chance to throw 2 yards to C.J. Conrad for a touchdown and a 15-14 UK victory.

What is regarded in Kentucky as “The Missouri Miracle,” is seen in Missouri as a football version of a highway robbery.

A loss “that would last a lifetime,” Odom said afterward.

From the video, UK’s Wagner appeared to initiate contact with Acy with a hand to the Missouri cornerback’s helmet.

Acy subsequently appeared to be using his right hand to hold Wagner’s right arm.

To say Missouri did not look at all that contact and see defensive pass interference is an understatement.

Acy said, “I feel I played it perfectly as I could. The guy’s hands were all over my helmet, so I tried my best to get my hands off, and I guess the referee saw otherwise.”

After viewing the game video, Odom said “I would not change one thing,” about how Acy defended the play.

stoops.jpg
Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops celebrated with his team after the Wildcats beat Missouri 15-14 on the final play of the game last season. UK Athletics

On Monday, at his weekly news conference, Kentucky’s Stoops was asked about Missouri and its unhappiness with the end-of-game officiating in the Tigers’ past two losses to UK.

Stoops wanted to focus on the officiating Kentucky has experienced in 2019. “I could say some things right now that wouldn’t be good,” he said. “I’m worried about ... us getting a call.”

Nevertheless, this weekend, should Kentucky backers repeat the oft-stated claim that the Wildcats never catch a break from SEC zebras, our visitors from The Show-Me State may feel compelled to argue otherwise.

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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