Kentucky Football

Bowden Takes His Heroics to the Air in 37-30 Belk Bowl Victory

December 31, 2019
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The Kentucky Wildcats ended the year, and the decade, in perfect fashion, coming away with a 37-30 win over Virginia Tech thanks to a trademark Stoops drive lasting eight minutes and culminating in a game-winning touchdown pass from Lynn Bowden to Josh Ali. The Cats capped off the win with a scoop-and-score by Jordan Wright as time expired.

The events of this week helped to create a storyline coming into this game that no one really saw as a chippy matchup originally. After the incident at the Charlotte Motor Speedway on Saturday, both teams came into today ready to go and the excitement began early. Several small scuffles erupted during pregame warmups including some punches thrown from Virginia Tech. Bowden retaliated at one point, but no pregame penalties were enforced.

Kentucky outgained Virginia Tech 404 yards to 329 yards with 331 of that 404 coming on the ground. Bowden ran for 233 yards and two touchdowns and added 73 yards and one touchdown through the air. Josh Ali came away with four catches, two of them arguably the two most important plays of the game on the last drive, for a total of 52 yards and one touchdown. On the ground, AJ Rose added 69 yards.

On defense, Kash Daniel led the way in his final game at Kentucky, registering eight tackles. Despite a lot of early pressure on Hooker, Kentucky came away with just one sack by Calvin Taylor, bringing his senior season total to 8.5. Postgame, he was more interested in talking about the victory and his teammates than personal accomplishments. While the Cats came away with just the one sack, they added seven tackles for loss, with Boogie Watson and Chris Oats each registering two.

Kentucky also won time of possession, keeping the ball for 35:46 to Virginia Tech’s 24:14. Kentucky possessed the ball for a staggering 11:09 in the fourth quarter. Another difference maker was 3rd down, where Kentucky converted 46% while holding Virginia Tech to 36%. Both teams were 3-for-3 in the red zone today, each coming away with 17 points from those possessions. 

 

First Quarter

The tense atmosphere carried over into the game as both teams were hitting hard early. Kentucky own the toss and deferred, and the defense immediately went to work getting to Virginia Tech’s backfield. On the first three straight plays the Wildcats had a defender get through the line into the backfield. On 3rd down, it was Boogie Watson who got through, but was called for a personal foul for roughing the passer, giving Virginia Tech an automatic first down and saving their drive. The Cats defense continued to get in the Hokies’ face, but a second personal foul, this one by Calvin Taylor, helped keep Virginia Tech moving. Kentucky finally forced 4th down at the UK 36 yard line and Virginia Tech took a 54 yard field goal to take an early 3-0 lead. Out of the 39 yards Virginia Tech gained on the drive, 30 came on penalties by Kentucky.

The Wildcat offense took the field for the first time and took a minute to settle in. Bowden took off for a 78 yard touchdown run early that got called back thanks to a holding penalty against Logan Stenberg. Virginia Tech was called for abusive language on the same play, and both penalties were enforced, netting a five yard gain for Kentucky. A pitch to Josh Ali went for 25 yards a few plays later and helped jumpstart the Cats, who built on the momentum and rode the legs of Bowden down to the end zone. Bowden scored from 25 yards out with no one near him, and took the time to point to a Virginia Tech defender as he crossed the goal line. Kentucky took a 7-3 lead.

Virginia Tech went to their hurry-up offense immediately on their second drive to resounding success. The Kentucky defense wasn’t ready for the speed and the Hokies went down the field and into the end zone in five plays. The first play of the drive was a 37 yard rush by Deshawn McClease, and Kentucky never recovered. Virginia Tech took a 10-7 lead on an 18-yard touchdown pass from Hooker to Hazelton.

Kentucky’s offense came back out ready to go, but couldn’t replicate the success of their first drive. A quick 3-and-out for a net of -3 yards brought Max Duffy out to punt. It was only a 38 yard punt, but Zach Johnson came in for the tackle and absolutely took out Virginia Tech’s returner, with some help from an uncalled block in the back that propelled him forward. The hit held Virginia Tech to no gain on the punt return andf gave them the ball at the Kentucky 22 yard line.

 

Second Quarter

Virginia Tech continued to ride their up-tempo offense on the next drive, once again scorching the Kentucky defense thanks in large part to running back Deshawn McClease, who gave Kentucky fits all day. Hooker connected on a few passes and ran it himself as well on the way to a nine play, 60 yard touchdown drive that gave Virginia Tech a ten point lead.

Kentucky opened their drive with a pass attempt that was incomplete from Bowden to Kavosiey Smoke, and then went back to the ground game, picking up chunk yardage early in the form of 19 and 11 yard rushes by Bowden. After that, the Cats were unable to sustain the drive and were forced to punt from their own 48 yard line.

Kentucky’s defense settled in and finally shut down the Virginia Tech offense thanks almost entirely to Chris Oats, who was responsible for all three tackles on VT’s 3-and-out. The Cats got the ball back with 5:02 left in the half and a chance to cut into the Hokies’ lead.

Kentucky started hot with AJ Rose picking up 31 yards on first down, the they kept it rolling from there. Bowden hit Justin Rigg over the middle for a 16 yard gain to send the Wildcats into the red zone and then ran the clock down on a few short runs before punching it into the end zone thanks to a hard two yard run by Chris Rodriguez. The Cats brought the score to 17-14 and gave the ball back to Virginia Tech with just 0:53 left in the half.

Virginia Tech moved 26 yards on two plays, but a huge sack by Calvin Taylor dropped Hooker seven yards behind the line of scrimmage as the clock expired. The Wildcats went to the locker room trailing the Hokies 17-14 and would get the ball to start the second half.

 

Third Quarter

Virginia Tech kicked out of bounds on the kickoff, giving Kentucky the ball on the 35 yard line, where they started running. Bowden kept it himself on first and second downs, totaling seven yards on the two plays. On 3rd and 3 AJ Rose found a hole and took off up the middle. His jersey was grabbed from behind on the tackle, but there was no horse collar call. The Wildcats stalled then, and settled for a field goal to tie the game at 17 apiece. 

The Ketucky defense continued to struggle against the Hokies’ offense. This time, Virginia Tech went down the field in just four plays, scoring on a 43 yard rush by McClease. The 1:26 drive gave Virginia Tech a 24-17 lead.

With the run game rolling, the Kentucky offense continued to chip away, despite a slow start to their drive. Thanks to a few unsuccessful plays followed by a false start by Logan Stenberg, the Wildcats had the ball on 3rd and 13. Bowden threw deep targeting Josh Ali, but the pass was intercepted. Before the pick, a flag was thrown for pass interference against Virginia Tech, saving the Kentucky possession and giving them a fresh set of downs. The Wildcats took advantage, as Bowden escaped multiple tackles three plays later, scorching Virginia Tech for a 61 yard touchdown. This was a career long rushing touchdown for Bowden, making it the second straight game he broke his own record. Kentucky tied Virginia Tech at 24.

Virginia Tech came out to answer, relying heavily on the arm of Hooker. After several straight incompletions the Hokies were forced to settle for a 40 yard field goal that gave them a 27-24 lead late in the third quarter. 

Intent on once again tying the game, the Cats came out and went back to Bowden early, who gained five yards on first down. Rose picked up six on third down, resetting the chains. Two plays later however, the ball came out as Rose was tackled, and it was ruled a fumble on the field. After a lengthy review the call stood due to a lack of good camera angles, and Virginia Tech took over in Kentucky territory. 

 

Fourth Quarter

Virginia Tech closed out the third quarter with an 11 yard run, and then came right back in the beginning of the fourth to pick up another 12. The Kentucky defense tightened up in the red zone and forced Virginia Tech to kick. The 27 yard field goal was good, giving the Hokies a 30-24 lead. 

Kentucky started all Bowden on their next drive with the first three plays all staying on the ground in Bowden’s hands. He then went to the air, hitting Josh Ali for a five yard gain. Bowden stayed with the air on 3rd and 6, throwing it up deep to Ahmad Wagner. The pass sailed, and Virginia Tech came down with the interception deep in their own territory. 

The Wildcat defense came out to get the ball back, and tightened up on the Hokies. They came through in a huge way, forcing a 3-and-out in 1:23 to give Bowden and the offense another chance.

Bowden, after coming out to field the punt, took the ball himself on the first snap and picked up seven yards. Kentucky went into kill mode, running down Virginia Tech’s throats while simultaneously running down the clock. The first seven plays of the drive all stayed on the ground before back to back pass attempts by Bowden yielded a nine yard gain on one completion to Josh Ali. The Wildcats went back to the gorund afterward for eight straight plays, grinding out the clock and the yardage. After a Virginia Tech timeout, Kentucky lined up for first down from the Hokies’ 13 yard line, and Bowden dropped back to pass, connecting with Josh Ali on a post route to tie the game at 30. Bowden and Mark Stoops talked about the play afterward, clarifying that it was drawn up as a pass to save the last timeout. Bowden checked out of the playcall and had Ali run the post, setting up the winning catch. An extra point by Matt Ruffolo later, Kentucky took a one point lead, leaving just 15 seconds on the clock for Virginia Tech. It was one of Kentucky’s quintissential soul-stealing drives, taking 18 plays and 8:10 off the clock.

Virginia Tech dropped back three times, going to a hook-and-ladder on the last play. Kentucky closed in with Brandin Echols getting the final hit on Hendon Hooker, knocking the ball loose. Jordan Wright recovered the fumble and returned it for a touchdown to sweeten the victory for the Wildcats. Kentucky took the 37-30 victory over Virginia Tech, making it two straight bowl wins.

Lynn Bowden, when asked postgame about his rushing statistics this week (most rushing yards by an SEC quarterback in a bowl game, passing Johnny Manziel) reiterated the play of his offensive line, saying he can’t understand how they didn’t win any awards. “I’m just saying though like, I want to see how my O-line ain’t win no award. Just look at it, it’s facts. I don’t know what else to say.” Rushing success and records aside, it was a storybook ending for Bowden to win his final Kentucky game in the air. What did that mean to him? “Everything. Y’all said I couldn’t throw.” 

 Stoops, meanwhile, heaped the praise on Bowden, getting emotional at times as he discussed the leadership and competitiveness of the wide receiver turned quarterback. “I don’t know how long we’ve been playing football at Kentucky, a long time, but he’s certainly one of the best that’s ever played at the university.” While Bowden was the MVP and leader today, it was a complete team effort, from touchdown drives by the offense to must-have 3-and-outs by the defense, and Stoops was proud of them all. “I love this football team, our players, their fight and their determination, and once again, just greatly appreciate our staff for what they’ve done.”

Kentucky finishes the 2019 season at 8-5 with their second straight bowl win. These back-to-back victories put Mark Stoops in the company of Bear Bryant and Rich Brooks as the only Kentucky coaches with back-to-back bowl wins. A season that began with high hopes on the arm of Terry Wilson found a storybook ending on the arm of Lynn Bowden. 

 

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Bowden Takes His Heroics to the Air in 37-30 Belk Bowl Victory

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