Stephen Johnson eludes a defender on his way to a 21-yard touchdown ― Photo by Keyli Chisesi (Go Big Blue Country)
The Kentucky Wildcats flirted with disaster, but found a way to escape with a hard fought 27-16 victory vs. Eastern Kentucky on Saturday afternoon. Through two quarters of play, Kentucky trailed the Colonels 13-10, before outscoring EKU 17-3 in the second half.
The offense marched down the field for an opening drive field goal, but the next three drives resulted in a turnover on downs and consecutive three-and-outs. Disgruntled fans could be heard all around Kroger Field, as they were beginning to hit the panic button. Needing someone to step up, Stephen Johnson emerged to calm the crowd and the offense.
Johnson led the Wildcats on the first two series of the game, before being replaced by Drew Barker, who saw live action for the first time in a year. With Barker under center, the offense went three-and-out on consecutive drives, resulting in Johnson reentering the game.
With the Wildcats trailing 13-3 with 2:26 remaining in the first half, Johnson ended any quarterback controversy. The UK quarterback marched the offense down the field. Following a facemask penalty that extended the UK drive, Johnson hit Charles Walker in stride for a 27-yard strike to the 23-yard line. Two plays later, Johnson connected with CJ Conrad for a 23-yard score to cut the Colonels lead to 13-10. Through the air, Johnson completed 15-of-22 pass attempts for 224 yards and a touchdown.
To begin the second half, the Colonels threatened to find the end zone early. However, the Wildcat defense forced a fumble inside the five-yard line. Jordan Jones, who didn’t play in the first quarter as a result of an incident at Southern Miss, forced the fumble that was recovered by cornerback Derrick Baity.
The Colonels added a field goal to extend their lead to 16-10 with 4:08 remaining in the third quarter. The Wildcats answered with a 3 play, 75-yard scoring drive, capped off by a 25-yard touchdown run by Benny Snell.
Snell, who hadn’t reached the end zone since last season’s regular season finale, exited the game early with a rib injury. The UK running back was taken to the locker room for X-rays, before returning to his normal self in the second half. Snell carried the ball 19 times for 103 yards and a touchdown.
Following the Snell touchdown, the defense forced the Colonels to punt, as Johnson and the UK offense took over with 14:11 remaining in the game. Nine plays later, Johnson used his legs to find the end zone on a 21-yard touchdown run, eluding an EKU tackler along the way. Kicker Austin MacGinnis added a 39-yard field goal to set the final score at 27-16 Kentucky.
Defensively, Darius West led the way with 11 tackles (7 solo) for the Wildcats. Derrick Baity, Jordan Jones, Josh Allen, and Courtney Love each finished with 8 tackles.
Cornerback Lonnie Johnson put together a solid game finishing with 4 tackles, one for a loss and a pass break up. Safety Mike Edwards, who finished with 2 tackles, added a game clinching interception late in the fourth quarter.
It wasn’t pretty but the Wildcats are 2-0, flipping the script from last season’s 0-2 start. Kentucky now shifts their attention to the South Carolina Gamecocks, as the start of SEC play looms next Saturday.