Cats Drop Heartbreaker to Georgia
Dawgs Get Last Punch, Win 27-24, Drop Cats From Atop SEC East
Commonwealth Stadium was filled and rocking, and the Cats played inspired football, but in the end, Georgia made key plays down the stretch and kicked a game-winning field goal as time expired to beat Kentucky 27-24.
Georgia struck first early in the first half when on 3rd and 11, quarterback Jacob Eason hit Isaiah McKenzie on a 38-yard touchdown pass to take the early 7-0 lead. But the Cats answered with a five-play, 67-yard drive, setup by a 30-yard run by Boom Williams to the Georgia three yard line. From there, freshman Benny Snell powered his way in for the score to tie the game 7-7.
After Georgia capped a 64-yard drive with Rodrigo Blankenship’s first field goal of the game to take a 10-7 lead, Kentucky caught its first big break in the game. Following a three-and-out possession and punt, McKenzie muffed the return, with Kentucky’s J.D. Harmon recovering the fumble.
From there, the Cats lowered the Boom with three straight carries by Williams for 38 yards, the final rush for 13 yards and a 14-7 lead. On the ensuing possession, Georgia again marched down the field, capping an 11-play, 59-yard drive with a 42-yard field goal by Blankenship to cut the lead to 14-13.
After another Georgia turnover and the teams trading punts, Kentucky turned to the Wildcat formation and a heavy dose of Snell. The freshman rushed for 41 yards during the five-play, 56-yard drive, punching it in from the one to give the Cats a 21-13 lead with 9:15 remaining in the third quarter.
Kentucky made a defensive stand, only to give the ball right back on a Garrett Johnson fumble, ultimately setting up Georgia’s third field goal of the night, a 49-yarder that cut the lead to 21-16 with 5:07 remaining in the third quarter.
And then disaster struck on the ensuing possession. Kentucky dialed up a deep passing play, with Jeff Badet breaking free down the field. Stephen Johnson delivered a beautiful deep ball that hit Badet in stride, before bobbling and bouncing into the hands of Georgia’s trailing Deandre Baker for the unlikely interception. In what surely would have been a touchdown for the speedy Badet, Georgia regained momentum and you could feel a bit of the air let out of Commonwealth Stadium.
The teams traded punts before a Georgia turnover gave the Cats another great opportunity. But Georgia’s defense stiffened and forced a three-and-out after two straight runs and a sack of Johnson on third down.
And then the Dawgs got rolling. Eason connected on three passes, including a 29-yard strike to tight end Isaac Nauta that took the ball deep into Kentucky territory to the 26 yardline. And then running back Sony Michel did the rest, taking a sweep around the right end up the sideline for a 26-yard touchdown. Then the Bulldogs went for the two-point conversion, where Eason found Nauta again to give Georgia a 24-21 lead with 9:12 remaining in the game.
But the Cats had an answer in Snell, who carried the ball 10 times from the Wildcat formation, pounding his way down inside the 10. On first and goal from the 9, Snell ran for no gain. Again on second down from the Wildcat, Snell pounded his way to the seven. And on third down Stephen Johnson threw a fade pass to Dorian Baker in the corner, which was well defended and incomplete. The Cats were forced to settle for the field goal, with Austin MacGinnis hitting the 25-yarder to tie the game 24-24 with 2:47 renaming.
Finally, in a setting all to familiar to the Commonwealth faithful, on a night that was anything but common, in a season that was on the very precipice of turning extraordinary, the Cats simply couldn’t get the final stop. A completion for 12 yards. Another for 12 more yards and into Kentucky territory, then yet another for 16. Michel gashed the defense for a 13-yard run, taking the ball down to the Kentucky 15 for another first down as the clock ticked down to 20 seconds. Michel carried again coming out of the timeout, going right off tackle, then deftly turning upfield and centering the ball in the middle of the field.
Longtime Kentucky fans had seen this tragedy play out so many times before. Ball on the eight yard line. 0:03 on the clock. The snap, the hold, the kick-the ball floating true through the uprights, spoiling what had otherwise been a perfect football night in the Commonwealth, the best night Kentucky football had seen in many years. Georgia wins. Kentucky loses, and most likely any chance of catching Florida for the SEC East Championship is gone as well.
And while this one stings right now, this team doesn’t seem so much like those teams that let games slip away in the past. While the pundits will surely cry the SEC East is weak, Kentucky lacks a truly signature win, the loss to Southern Miss, and more-there’s something undeniable going on in Lexington. These Cats have fight in them. The coaching staff is getting a lot from this team, and the program is seemingly turning the proverbial corner before our very eyes. How much-well that remains to be seen. We’ll find out a little more next weekend in Knoxville.