Mark Stoops’ Kentucky football teams have won quite a few close games in miraculous fashion.
Fans will not soon forget Bud Dupree’s Pick Six vs. South Carolina, Austin MacGinnis’ Mississippi State game-winner, Lamar Jackson’s fumble or Stephen Johnson’s end zone leap that defeated Tennessee. Those wins helped move the program forward in different ways. Saturday’s miraculous walk-off victory vs. Missouri changed Kentucky football, even though it’s difficult to quantify exactly how.
The Missouri victory shared similarities with many others.
“It’s really gratifying to see all three phases have to step up big late in that game to give us an opportunity to win,” Stoops said today. “(It) Says an awful lot about our team’s character, their heart and just sheer will and determination to find a way to win a football game.”
Almost every aforementioned victory required big plays from all three phases of football, but never in such an impactful manner. The defense prevented the nation’s No. 12 offense from getting a first down in the second half. The special teams provided a blocked field goal and a punt return touchdown. The final piece of the equation provided an 88-yard drive in just over a minute to clinch the victory.
“What you saw was great leaders really perform. Guys that have been doing it and working so hard and doing the right things and being such good leaders, really just show up. Who you are in the dead of the night is going to show up under the brightest lights. You saw that with some of these players who responded and showed up in a really big moment with a lot of pressure on them.”
Kentucky needed their leaders to be their best in the biggest moments to defeat Vanderbilt too, yet there’s something about Saturday felt different. What’s different? That’s hard to describe, even for Mark Stoops.
“I also do feel like something changed a bit Saturday: that growth, another step, however you might say it. I don’t know how to put it into words, but I just felt like that truly everybody said that somehow, someway they’re going to do their part to help us win this game. Certainly some guys stepped up a in a really big way, but everybody did. Everybody in there made a difference. I definitely think we evolved another step.”
Like Stoops, it’s hard to accurately describe what made Saturday night’s win so special. From the fans at home to the players on the field, it was an emotional experience. All too often those emotional Kentucky football experiences don’t end with pure, unadulterated joy, but Saturday was different. Something changed Saturday and the Kentucky football team will never be the same.