Saturday’s game vs. Mississippi State is big for Mark Stoops and the Kentucky Football program, but for Stoops, no game may ever be bigger than the one vs. the Bulldogs in 2016. At SEC Media Days in July, ESPN’s Marty Smith revealed that Stoops told him he knew he had to win that game or he’d be fired.
“He told us, he knew either, ‘I’m winning or I’m fired,’” Smith said on The Paul Finebaum Show. “He knew it. ‘I’m winning or I’m fired.’”
Since then, Kentucky’s gone to back-to-back bowls and Mississippi State’s currently in the top 15 despite having a brand new coach; to fully appreciate how far both programs have come, let’s look back on that fateful night in October, specifically, the kick that saved Stoops’ job.
Kentucky hosted SEC Nation
SEC Nation was in town for the game, and Finebaum recalled how anxious Stoops seemed on set.
“We were up there that weekend and he came by the show. I’m not going to use any cliches about how tight he was, but he was like sweating the day before because you couldn’t avoid the subject. He barely won that game.”
Boom and Benny were huge
Mississippi State fans like to mock the fact that Benny only had 18 yards in last year’s game at Starkville, but in his first outing vs. the Bulldogs, he had 128 yards and a touchdown to go along with Boom Williams’ 99 yards. Benny won SEC Freshman of the Week for his efforts, a sign of things to come.
Marcus McWilson’s Pick Six was huge
One of the biggest plays of the game came when Marcus McWilson picked off Nick Fitzgerald’s pass and ran it back for a touchdown, increasing Kentucky’s lead to ten heading into the fourth quarter. It happened right after an impassioned speech by Stoops on the sidelines:
Stoops was so happy with McWilson he tackled him to the ground:
A 51-yard kick as time expires
Kentucky was in a good situation after the pick six, but a pair of mistakes by Stephen Johnson put the game in peril. On 2nd and goal, Johnson fumbled the ball and it was returned by the Bulldogs for a touchdown. On first and goal on the next drive, Johnson false started and the Cats had to settle for a field goal.
Over the next five and a half minutes, Mississippi State marched down the field and scored a touchdown to go up by one with a minute left. Gulp. Johnson and Jeff Badet, who finished with a career-high 139 yards and two touchdowns, were able to move the ball down the field far enough to give Austin MacGinnis a shot, resulting in a 51-yard field goal as time expired to win the game and save Stoops’ job.
Knowing what we do now, the exchange between Stoops and MacGinnis afterwards is even more special.
“We both just looked at each other and I don’t even know what we said,” Stoops said. “I gave him a hug and probably told him I loved him.”
Why doesn’t MacGinnis have an NFL job, again?
The scene on the field was special
Stoops and MacGinnis weren’t the only emotional ones; everyone in the stadium reveled in the shock of the moment, with Benny Snell and Boom Williams even being moved to tears.
— KSTV (@KSTV_Sports) October 23, 2016
“All of us were emotional about this game,” Benny said. “We love this game with all of our heart. When something like that happens, I have no choice but to cry. We just fought so hard.”
Some, like Drew, were moved to four-letter words (language at beginning NSFW):
Here's the kick.
It looked good. The sound after was even better. pic.twitter.com/4NI4teMjZC
— Kentucky Athletics (@UKAthletics) October 23, 2016
It's A Party! It's A Party! pic.twitter.com/hoTIAJFBha
— UK Stoops Troops (@UKStoopsTroops) October 23, 2016
Now let’s do it again Saturday night…maybe in a less-dramatic fashion.