photo by David Stephenson
What initially started as a game with few admirers and somewhat slow-building momentum became an historic victory for the University of Kentucky football program as the Cats overcame a poor first half to pull off a HUGE 25-19 victory over East Carolina.
With seemingly everything going ECU's way in the first half, Rich Brooks ran off the field with a feisty interview that foresaw what had to be a dress-down unlike any other. But whatever he said worked as the Cats came back with out with a David Jones kickoff return touchdown and then never looked back in winning their first ever Liberty Bowl. In so doing, this group of Cats become the first ever to win three straight bowl games and help continue an SEC domination of the Liberty Bowl since becoming affiliated a few years ago. It was an exciting game that gave the streets of Memphis a Sea of Blue and allowed Big Blue Nation to savor its third straight winning season. In a game with a ton of momentum swings, more talk about "knees" than any contest in history and the creation of another fan base that hates Bob Davie, there is a lot to get to, so lets have at it:
--- In terms of players, you have to start with admiration for the performance of Mike Hartline.
From somewhere in the middle of the Middle Tennessee State game on, Hartline has been critiqued, criticized, booed and benched multiple times and has found a way to bounce back and continue to lead his team. Tonight he came in with a lot going against him, not least of which the fact that he found himself with the flu and unable to hold down food for the last 48 hours. He spent a couple of the defensive series in the locker room throwing up and attempting to get his stomach settled. And yet after all that, Hartline put together one of his best performances, becoming the Hartline of the early season....few mistakes and good decisionmaking. His only interception came on a trick play and he found a way to put UK in a position to win the game. For that he deserves a lot of credit and praise.
--- Similarly, a huge kudos goes out to Tony Dixon.
In his oft-injured career, Tony has had his ups and downs, putting together some big games (Georgia two years ago comes to mind) but also sometimes leaving people wanting more. With Derrick Locke out, Dixon had a solid, workhorse game, moving the ball on the ground and leading his team to victory. Great sendoff for a really good kid.
--- All year we have wondered about Wide Recievers and tonight two stepped up as Gene McCaskill and Eric Adeyemi
gave some hope for the future at the position. Both guys had multiple downfield catches and looked like they had grown in the position during this extra practice.
--- What can you say about game MVP, Ventrell Jenkins
who produced the "Stiff Arm Heard Round the World" in a great fumble return that will take a place among the most important of all UK football plays. Jenkins has been a solid contributor and too, is often forgotten on a defense full of more heralded stars. He has played well all year and now has a return and stiff arm that will forever live in UK lore.
--- While the secondary had its share of problems, (I cant watch Shomari get beat again), there may be a new star in "Soulja Boy" Randall Burden
. The young man who was previously best known for starring in all of the dance videos put out last year, had two huge breakups at the end of the game and was solid on his side of the field throughout the second half. The Cats need a second (and if Lindley leaves, first) CB and Burden gave promise at the position.
--- Poor Lones
--- Shout out to David Jones and Tim Masthay
. Both guys playing in their last games had memorable finishes, with Jones getting the kick return and Masthay finishing a great career with a number of booming punts. UK will definitely miss the latter next year when they have to find another (I guess Tydlacka) to fill in the duty. After Pakulak and Masthay, those are BIG shoes to fill.
--- When the ECU fans
sang over "My Old Kentucky Home", I about had to rumble.
--- The Kentucky fans showed up strong.
There were worries about a terrible showing from the UK base, but the late arrivers helped UK have a better than average fan participation in the game. The Sea of Blue was loud and played a role in the victory.
--- How much do you love Papa Brooks interviews
. Arent they great?
--- Chris Johnson should be asked to speak in every game, just for the entertainment value.
--- Bob Davie
is actually a pretty good announcer. But he was beyond frustrating at the end of the contest here. He continued to say that one "couldnt argue" with the first fumble return being called back, but then continued to argue many plays later about the second one that was allowed to stand. I met Davie earlier this year and think the guy is a good announcer and very nice guy. But I nearly called him just to say that yes, WE CAN ARGUE the first return call, because it very well may have been wrong.
--- When Lones missed the second extra point, how many of you thought, "uh oh, here comes the heartbreaking UK football loss?" That mindset may slowly be changing and you have to thank Rich Brooks for that completely. After the Arkansas game this year, I asked him about the game and said that "this kind of thing usually happens in reverse for Kentucky." And he essentially said, "not anymore. These kids dont remember the bad things from the past and I dont either." That mindset shows in how well they have done in end of game situations.
Keep the celebration coming for your Liberty Bowl Champs! Go ahead and scroll down and read the live blog to see the fun that Mosley, Tomlin, Beisner, Bomani, Fake Gimel, Hunter, Turkey Hunter and I had during the game. There is some good stuff in there and we thank the thousands of you all who joined us for the festivities.
Stay tuned tomorrow as we recap more on the game, get ready for Louisville and Matt Roark gets a Roughing the Kicker penalty. GO CATS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!