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Ahmad Wagner goes from Iowa Basketball reserve to unsung UK Football hero

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Wagner was playing on the hardwood this time last year. Now, he’s making plays for a Kentucky team in the midst of an all-time season.

Kentucky v Missouri Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

It seemed only fitting that a pass to Ahmad Wagner, a forgotten receiver in a struggling passing offense, would ultimately set the stage for one of the most improbable wins in Kentucky Football history.

Trailing 14-9 with four seconds remaining, UK quarterback Terry Wilson launched a pass to Wagner in the left corner of the end zone as Wildcat fans took a collective breath on what appeared to be the final play of the game.

The 6-foot-5 Wagner made a leaping catch (his first of the season) only to land out of bounds and seemingly end UK’s hopes for a comeback.

Fortunately, a pass interference call gave the Cats one final (untimed) play, as tight end C.J. Conrad caught the game winner for a 15-14 win over Missouri.

On a night when a dysfunctional offense used three quarterbacks (Wilson, Danny Clark and Gunnar Hoak), failed twice on fourth-down conversions, and looked completely lost for much of the game, the throw to Wagner may have been the biggest shocker of the night. After all, Wagner’s name doesn’t even show up in any receiving statistics for the 2018 season.

Regardless of some questionable play-calling, the Cats ultimately made enough big plays to keep the momentum going and set up this week’s battle with Georgie for the SEC East title.

“It’s a really big deal for our fan base and for our team,” said UK coach Mark Stoops of the chance to play for a title next week at Kroger Field. “These guys have worked hard and you have to find a way if you’re going to be a championship team. You have to find a way to win games like this. I’m just very proud of our team for doing that.”

If Wagner’s name sounds familiar, you might remember that the Ohio native played basketball at Iowa for three season prior to changing sports and transferring to UK with two years of football eligibility (2018 and 2019). He played just one year of high school football, catching 58 passes for 1,028 yards and 17 touchdowns as a senior.

UK assistant coach Vince Marrow once called Wagner “the best high school football player in Ohio (in the class of 2015),” as he was heavily recruited in both football and basketball.

Despite not having a single catch this season, Wagner has reportedly been turning heads in practice and has been on the fast track to move from special teams to more reps at the receiver position.

“He is a guy that you think about,” Stoops said prior to UK’s matchup with Vanderbilt. “We’ve been working with him…he has great size and he can go up over people at times and create that play that we’ve been looking for.”

In this case, Saturday’s “big play” won’t even make it into the box score. But you can bet it will forever live in the hearts of Kentucky Football fans.

Bring on Georgia.