By Dalton Ray–
The annual Governor’s Cup battle fell in Kentucky’s favor this year. The Wildcats pulled out the upset win over No. 11 Louisville 41-38 on a late field goal.
Sophomore Lamar Jackson totaled 452 yards and four touchdowns in the loss. Jackson also committed four turnovers, including a last second heave on the game’s final play.
Louisville’s defense allowed too many big plays and failed to get crucial stops.
In the first drive of the game, the Cardinals went 84 yards in just over two minutes. Starting in an empty set, Jackson hit sophomore Jaylen Smith for a 42-yard bomb. The next play, Jackson found freshman Seth Dawkins for 20 yards. Three plays later, Jackson scored his 20th rushing touchdown on an inverted veer.
Louisville wasn’t the only team to come out swinging. Kentucky’s Stephen Johnson found a wide-open Garrett Johnson for a 75-yard touchdown strike. Not even three minutes into the game, and the score was tied at seven.
The next three drives ended with punts.
Kentucky’s next drive showed promise as S. Johnson stayed confident in the face of pressure. The junior quarterback kept his eyes downfield and hit safe passes on the outside. Knowing Louisville’s defense Todd Grantham blitzes on third down, UK countered with a swing pass to Benny Snell for a big first down. Stanley Williams capped the drive with a 36-yard run for the UK score.
Other than their first scoring drive, the Cardinals couldn’t stay on the field. After getting two first downs, the offensive line allowed two free rushers to come in and bring Jackson down. The huge sack put Louisville in a second and long. Converting on fourth down, Jackson then rifled a touchdown strike to Reggie Bonnafon, who tiptoed to stay in bounds.
Starting with a 14-yard run on the fake reverse, UK looked to retake the lead against U of L. The drive ended on a dropped pass by Dorian Baker.
Senior Brandon Radcliff recorded his first two big runs of the game as he put U of L past the 50-yard line. Jackson found senior Cole Hikutini for two first downs as the Cardinals entered the UK 10. The Wildcats held strong though, as they forced Louisville to a field goal. The Cards regained the lead 17-14 with eight minutes in the half.
Louisville brought pressure on S. Johnson, but once again rushed too far upfield, allowing huge rushing lanes for the quarterback. A hold on first down put UK in a bad spot as they were forced into third and long. S. Johnson’s pass was intercepted by Trumaine Washington off the tipped pass.
On the first play after the pick, Jackson was sacked after failing to get rid of the ball. Jackson responded by hitting Quick on back-to-back passes for 35 yards. After an injury timeout, Louisville answered with a shovel option to Hikutini. The senior trotted into the end zone, giving U of L the 24-14 lead.
Kentucky scored on another bomb the next drive. Washington pulled up limping while in coverage of G. Johnson, who hauled in the 63-yard touchdown pass.
Just before the half ended, Jackson found Quick in the end zone between two defenders, but Quick dropped the touchdown pass. Louisville entered halftime with a 24-21 lead. Kentucky had six tackles for loss and three sacks while Louisville failed to register either.
Louisville brought the blitz on the opening third down of the second half and S. Johnson calmly allowed the rush to shoot upfield and scramble for the first down. Snell finished the drive with a touchdown score out of the wildcat formation.
Jackson began the second half with a 61-yard highlight reel run, putting U of L in the red zone. Three plays later, Jeremy Smith punched in the touchdown. Louisville regained the led at 31-28.
Kentucky used a well-timed pop-pass to get the first down after the U of L score. S. Johnson continued his smart play during the third quarter as he kept making his passes to the sideline count. Due to Grantham bringing blitzes, the Wildcats had room to work with out-routes to the sidelines. Two broken-up passes in the end zone forced the Cats to kick the field goal, tying the game at 31.
Jackson responded by forcing an interception on the next play from scrimmage. Looking past his open check-down route, Jackson threw a deep pass downfield to sophomore Traveon Samuel.
Kentucky began to wear down the U of L defense. As they continued to grind the ball, it took more Louisville defenders to bring down ball carriers. On third down, S. Johnson hit Baker in the end zone, who pulled in the impressive falling catch. With 14:19 in the game, UK led 38-31.
Starting with a good return from Samuel, Radcliff ripped off a big run for 26 yards. The next play, Jackson’s pass to Hikutini went through the tight end’s hands and was picked off in the end zone.
Junior De’Asian Richardson started the next drive with a huge stop in the backfield, putting UK at their own three-yard line. An alignment issue allowed Jojo Kemp to reach the edge the next play, giving the Cats a third and one, in which Kentucky converted.
With 9:32 to play, Louisville took over on their 45-yard line. Jackson busted through the UK defense with a 33-yard rush. Jackson then checked the ball down to Radcliff, who put the ball inside the Kentucky 10 yard line. Action Jackson added another scoring touchdown and struck the Heisman pose after the score.
Louisville finally made contact with S. Johnson on the next drive, forcing his pass to fall incomplete. On second down, S. Johnson’s pass again hit the turf. But a penalty gave UK a first down. U of L failed to bring down the Kentucky quarterback again as he picked up 16 yards two plays later.
In the middle of the big Kentucky drive, Louisville’s junior Chris Williams stripped the ball away from Snell. The turnover flipped the game’s momentum as the crowd got back into the game.
When the U of L offense re-entered the game, the Cardinals played it smart and safe. U of L called safe runs and put the ball in the hands of Jackson and Radcliff. Senior center Tobias Hughley committed an illegal snap costing U of L five yards, then missed his block the next play which led to a three-yard loss.
After converting a huge third down, Jackson got the keeper and tried to make a play. Jackson lost the ball at the 10-yard line and UK recovered. Louisville’s chance to put in the game-winning score ended.
Kentucky hit a wide open receiver deep on the left hash for a 29-yard gain. S. Johnson recorded a 15-yard run to put UK past the 50-yard line. On fourth and four, UK knocked in the 46-yard game-winning field goal.
Photo by Nancy Hanner / The Louisville Cardinal
Photo by Laurel Slaughter / The Louisville Cardinal