Since Mark Stoops arrived on campus in 2013, the Kentucky Wildcats have certainly been far more enjoyable and far more exciting than it was in the years prior. We’ve been in games that we should not have, we’ve won SEC road games, and we’ve even had our hearts broken once or twice.
But, it sure beats not competing at all. You may be asking yourself, “So what are the best games since Stoops has been here?” Well I am going to rank them for you. Here are my top five Kentucky football games of the Stoops era.
Honorable Mention - Kentucky vs Mississippi State, October 22, 2016
Kentucky - 40, Mississippi State - 38
Kentucky seemed like they would be pulling away after Marcus McWilson picked off Nick Fitzgerald and took it to the house. But a Stephen Johnson fumble on the goal line caused Mississippi State to be right back in it. Before the fumble, Johnson was playing well, finishing the game with 292 yards and two touchdowns. Benny Snell also solidified himself as the star running back of the team, going for 128 yards and one touchdown. But the story of the night was Austin MacGinnis and his 51-yard game winner to all but secure a bowl for Kentucky. One of the more exciting games to watch as a fan, it was a great night for Kentucky. On the same night, the lovable loser Chicago Cubs punched their ticket to the World Series.
5. Kentucky vs #25 Missouri, September 26, 2015
Kentucky - 21, Mizzou - 13
One week after Kentucky lost a heart-breaker to Florida, the Cats came right back and upset the 25th-ranked team in the country. It was Kentucky’s first win over a ranked team in what felt like decades, and it was a good feeling. Before Maty Mauk transferred to my current school, Eastern Kentucky, he was one of the most dangerous quarterbacks in the SEC with his dual-threat ability. But Patrick Towles out-dueled him on this night, throwing two touchdown passes and rushing for a third one. Kentucky’s defense held strong and the Cats won the game 21-13, setting off a hype train like no other.
4. Kentucky vs Florida, September 13, 2014
Floirda 36, Kentucky - 30 3OT
Where were you when the clock ran out? The game that has a single image of a play-clock hitting zero burned into the minds of Kentucky fans. Although Kentucky lost, how many of us expected the performance that we got from the Cats down in the swamp? Towles and Juice Johnson, in his homecoming to his state as a freshman, lit the Gators up, with Towles throwing for 369 yards and three TDs, and Johnson going for 150 yards and a pair of touchdowns. And then the Boom Williams touchdown run happened. Boom reversed field, cut through the defense and dove across the pylon causing every Kentucky fan, and football fan, in the country to collectively say “What just happened?”
And then the very next possession, our hearts would be ripped out and stomped on due to poor officiating. We all know the play clock ran out on 4th down. We all saw it and there’s video proof of it. Alas, while it may be a loss, it was one of the most exciting games I’ve watched as a Kentucky fan. You have to go through the bad times to get to the good.
3. Kentucky vs South Carolina, September 12, 2015
Kentucky - 26, South Carolina - 22
Although it was a horrendous year for South Carolina, Kentucky still went on the road in an extremely tough environment, with sandstorm and gamecock noises blaring, and walked out with a W. Never would I have thought I would see a big time Kentucky road win like that, but it was amazing when I did see it. Chris Westry had his coming out party this game as our stud freshman defensive back, Denzil Ware returned a two-point conversion the entire length of the field, and Kentucky solidified their running game with Williams, JoJo Kemp and Mikel Horton. Kentucky walked into Williams-Brice as the up-and-comers of the SEC and came out as a potential threat to teams sleeping on them.
2. Kentucky vs South Carolina, October 4, 2014
Kentucky - 45, South Carolina - 38
Does anyone else remember what a night this was? The blackout. The night game. The prime-time SEC slot. And the Grove Street Party. This was your typical upset-making atmosphere, and it did not disappoint. Kemp somehow had legs after this game as he carried the ball 17 times and ran for 131 yards and three touchdowns. Oh yeah, and all that was while running the Wildcat offense. It was a back and forth affair, with Kentucky even pulling out a trick play to open the second half with Towles bombing one to Ryan Timmons.
And then we have the now-known tradition of Grove Street Party. After the Towles to Timmons touchdown, the kickoff team started dancing with the crowd going insane, to give me one of the coolest moments I have ever experienced.
Kentucky picked off South Carolina quarterback Dylan Thompson three times that night, including the pick-six that sent the state of Kentucky wild as Bud Dupree picked off Thompson inside their own 15 and ran it back. Kentucky’s first signature win of the Stoops era might just be the most memorable.
1. Kentucky vs #11 Louisville, November 26, 2016
Kentucky - 41, Louisville - 38
You just knew it would be this one didn’t you? Where were you when Lamar Jackson made the Heisman pose? Then where were you when he fumbled moments later? This win has really put Kentucky on the map for college football. It has opened up recruiting for bigger players to come here. Kentucky is finally out-recruiting Louisville, and the media has been giving the Cats a lot more exposure. All because Kentucky went on the road and beat Louisville.
Stephen Johnson played the game of his life, passing for 338 yards and three touchdowns, and also leading the team in rushing with 83 yards. Kentucky came out swinging from the opening play of the game with a Johnson-to-Johnson (Garrett Johnson) connection from 74 yards out. The Kentucky defense also made big-time plays in the game, slowing down Louisville’s momentum whenever they seemed to be gaining a head of steam. They picked off Lamar Jackson three times and forced one fumble, the fumble heard ‘round the state of Kentucky. And Austin MacGinnis, again, saved the day for the Wildcats as his game winning field-goal with 12 seconds remaining went right down the pipe, not even close to missing. Kentucky got the biggest win of Mark Stoops’ career and changed the culture of the program in the process.
The only thing that would have made this win better is if Louisville had beaten Houston the previous week and Kentucky had destroyed their playoff hopes. But hey, a win is a win, right Cards fans?