The Wildcats played with their food against an FCS foe and it nearly cost them the game. Kentucky trailed Chattanooga in the fourth quarter Saturday at Kroger Field. Thanks to late heroics from safety Tyrell Ajian, Mark Stoops’ team improved to 3-0 with a 28-23 win.
Clinging to a 21-16 lead, Kentucky’s defense needed a big play to silence the Mocs. One tipped pass turned into the longest play of the day for Chattanooga. The next deep ball went in Kentucky’s favor.
Facing pressure from Octavious Oxendine, Cole Copeland heaved a pass toward the goal line. The ball was caught by a UK defensive back, Tyrell Ajian. Instead of going down quickly, Ajian cut wide to the outside, UK got a body on Copeland and there was nothing stopping the safety from scoring.
Despite a late touchdown by the Mocs, the 95-yard return by Ajian, the third-longest interception return in school history, put the game out of reach.
Chattanooga Hangs Around
The first Kentucky offensive possession was a thing of beauty, utilizing multiple weapons to march 70 yards down the field and finish a 9-play drive with a touchdown. The Mocs took the punch to the chin.
On the third Chattanooga offensive snap, running back Ailym Ford knifed through the Kentucky defense to gain 48 yards, setting up an equalizing touchdown. The Mocs tied the game, but would not get a first down for the rest of the first half.
Instead of running away with it, Kentucky’s offense let Chattanooga hang around. A Will Levis interception gave the Mocs three free points. The UK quarterback also fumbled the ball as he was hit on a fourth down. The Wildcats fumbled it three times and committed three turnovers. Kentucky led 14-10 at the half.
Flat Third Quarter
Kentucky needed to reassert its dominance at the start of the second half. Mark Stoops’ fiery halftime speech did not do the trick.
The Mocs opened the third quarter with a 10-play drive that ended in points. The Wildcats’ offense could only muster one first down. Following a UK stop, the turnover bug bit again. Levis was intercepted for the second time after his ball Wan’Dale Robinson was under-thrown. Kentucky had just 51 yards of offense in the third quarter.
With the energy sucked out of Kroger Field, the Mocs seized the opportunity. Tyrell Price ripped off a 33-yard run to put Chattanooga in scoring range. The Mocs took a 16-14 lead on a 30-yard field goal with 13:27 to play.
The Kentucky quarterback had an off day. His long balls all seemed a touch short. Once Chattanooga took the lead, he got his groove back by using his legs. Levis scrambled for a 21-yard gain to bring the crowd back to life. Following the play he seemed more with it in the pocket, hanging in as defenders swarmed to find Izayah Cummings for a go-ahead 31-yard touchdown.
The Mocs tried to throw a counter-punch, but Ajian delivered the big play instead. It was far from pretty, yet Kentucky was able to escape with a one score win.