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Stoops’ 10: No. 8 Stephen Soars over Rocky Top

At number eight on the countdown, we have Kentucky’s second win over Tennessee in 32 years. Stephen Johnson claimed his role as the ultimate leader, Benny Snell gashed the Vol defense, and the last play at the three-yard line made this an instant classic.

No. 8: Kentucky 29, Tennessee 26 – October 28, 2017

It was a frigid, cold night at Kroger Field when Mark Stoops looked to take his first victory against the Vols as UK head coach. Despite Kentucky holding a 5-2 record, UK needed to win this game to keep the fans’ attention with basketball season lurking around the corner. It wasn’t fair, but it was true.

For the Vols, it felt like this would be Butch Jones’ swan song if he couldn’t beat Kentucky. After all, it had only happened once in 32-years prior to this game.

Tennesee was rolling into Lexington with a record of 3-4. After not scoring against Georgia in one of the worst losses in the history of Neyland Stadium, Jones turned to freshman quarterback Jarrett Guarantano who would take on Kentucky in his third career start. Tennesee’s offense hadn’t scored a touchdown in 14 quarters prior to kickoff.

With Butch Jones seeing the sunset on his career at Tennesee and Mark Stoops trying to get one last push to elevate the Kentucky program to another level, both teams desperately felt like they had something to prove.

Benny and the Cats

After a slow start in his sophomore campaign –averaging just 77 yards per game– Snell was obviously anxious to run. Snell was still effective, but impatient. in the backfield He wasn’t the same Benny Snell we saw in his freshman year.

After working with Eddie Gran in the middle of the season, it was evident Benny was slowly getting back to his ways. However, the start of the game wasn’t pretty for Mr. Snell Ya Later.

On the first play from scrimmage, Snell fumbled the ball inside Kentucky’s 20, giving Tennessee’s offense the perfect opportunity to break that 14-quarter drought. Fortunately, the Kentucky defense forced a three and out, forcing Tennesee to settle for three to start the game. But, just as the Benny Snell we all know and love, he wanted to make up for that fumble. Desperately.

The fumble sparked Snell on the following possession. He rushed for 37 yards, 27 of which came on one run when he hurdled two defenders on his way to the end zone.

On the next drive, it was more of the same. After a five yard-run and another hurdle, Benny Snell broke off a 48-yard run to the goal line that he would punch in for his second touchdown of the game.

Snell would score another touchdown on the next drive for his third touchdown of the first half. He would finish with 170 furious yards on the ground and three touchdowns. After the game, he had a fitting exit to the tune of Bennie and the Jets.

Unsung Hero: Tavin Richardson

Stephen Johnson and Benny Snell stole the show, but it’s easy to forget how crucial Tavin Richardson was in this game.

Kentucky won by only completing seven passes. Three of those were to Tavin Richardson and two changed the game. Tavin’s first catch was a pedestrian screen for no gain, but on first and 10 in the second quarter Eddie Gran decided to get a little frisky.

Gran put freshman wide receiver Lynn Bowden at quarterback and let him air a deep ball out to Richardson. Naturally, the ball was a tad underthrown, but Richardson was able to pick it up off the turf for a 30-yard catch that set up Benny Snell’s third touchdown of the first half.

On UK’s final offensive drive of the game, Tavin Richardson hauled in one of the most textbook sideline catches you’ll ever see. The play paved the way for UK to get in the end zone to beat the Vols.

Stephen Johnson: The Ultimate Leader

Kentucky held onto a one-point lead early in the second half when Stephen Johnson went down with a shoulder injury. It was not unusual to see Johnson get banged up here and there, but it was alarming to see him to go into the locker room for evaluations.

Two plays later, Drew Barker fumbled the ball. It was time to panic. The Big Blue Nation knew the Cats needed Stephen Johnson to beat the Vols.

Minutes later a hushed Kroger Field roared into cheers as No. 15 sprinted out of the locker room and back onto the sideline, ready to help the Cats overcome a 23-21 deficit.

Johnson marched the Cats down the field. With the goal line in reach, the quarterback scrambled for a 17-yard run. He threw a stiff-arm, leaped into the air and over the goal line onto his injured shoulder. Regardless of injury, he put it all on the line in the name of victory.

Johnson put his body on the line for a win with one play that would define his career as a Wildcat.

 A Play of Kentucky Legend

Does anything need to even be said about this? Let’s just enjoy the game-winning touchdown.

Then again from the field:

The Vols tried to throw a Hail Mary as time expired, but they were stopped short on the three-yard line, giving Kentucky a 29-26 victory over Tennessee.

The Aftermath

Kentucky became bowl eligible in October for the first time since 2007 with this victory over Tennessee, eventually landing in the Music City Bowl. Benny Snell would rush for over 1,000 yards once again, and Stephen Johnson’s game-winning touchdown would go down as one of the greatest plays ever under Mark Stoops.

As expected Butch Jones was fired by Tennessee, but unlike South Carolina, Kentucky has yet to beat the Vols since.

With only two wins in the last 33 years and that embarrassing loss last year, Kentucky will look get back at the Vols when Tennesee rolls back into Lexington for the first time since this game on November 9th.

Check out the other games in our countdown to kickoff series:

No. 9: Kentucky 23, South Carolina 13- September 16, 2017

No. 10: Kentucky 26, South Carolina 22- September 12, 2015


Article written by Brent Wainscott

Twitter: @BrentWainscott_

2 Comments for Stoops’ 10: No. 8 Stephen Soars over Rocky Top

  1. Ridge Runner
    7:05 pm August 23, 2019 Permalink

    Richardson was critical, yes indeed. Great win for us!

  2. Smyrna_Cat
    9:15 pm August 23, 2019 Permalink

    THESE ARE FUN!!!! Thank you for posting these! Nice memories.