- Associated Press - Saturday, November 19, 2016

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - Nothing about Kentucky’s quest toward respectability was easy, and the win that finally put the Wildcats back in the postseason for the first time in six years required overcoming initial adversity.

They regrouped by halftime and now look forward to playing in December for a change.

Stephen Johnson came off the bench to throw two second-quarter touchdown passes, Benny Snell and Jojo Kemp each ran for two scores and Kentucky rallied past Austin Peay 49-13 on Saturday to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2010.

“It’s a happy locker room,” said Kentucky coach Mark Stoops, who added, “they stayed the course, never flinched and it’s never easy. We’ve just got to continue to push forward.”

Drama preceded the Wildcats’ postseason-clinching victory with the pregame announcement that little-used sophomore Luke Wright would start at quarterback instead of Johnson because of a left knee injury that wasn’t previously disclosed. In-game anxiety followed as Kentucky trailed the FCS Governors 13-0 early in the second quarter and led to the “emergency” use of Johnson - who looked healthy enough to guide his team into a 21-13 lead by halftime.

“They just wanted me in emergency situations, and not to go out there and get hurt even more,” Johnson said.

Snell’s 30-yard TD run got Kentucky (6-5) going before Johnson’s scoring passes of 14 yards to C.J. Conrad and 40 to Garrett Johnson. The Wildcats broke it open as Boom Williams ran for a 25-yard TD, Snell scored from 48 and Kemp from 40 and 7 yards.

Reaching six wins was huge for Kentucky after falling just short with back-to-back 5-7 finishes. The achievement looked even more elusive after a 0-2 start and a back injury to Drew Barker in the third game that propelled Johnson into the starter’s role.

Those struggles were forgotten on a cold, blustery evening before 48,948 that culminated in the goal that Stoops sought.

“I might have been in middle school, so that goes to show how long ago it was (for Kentucky),” said sophomore cornerback Chris Westry, who had one of the Wildcats’ two interceptions.

Snell carried 14 times for 152 yards to set a school single-season record for a freshman (1,006) and give Kentucky its first-ever 1,000-yard rushing duo with Williams (1,072).

Kentel Williams’ 17-yard TD run and Gunnar Scholato’s 25-yard interception return of Wright for a score got Austin Peay (0-11) ahead. The Governors couldn’t stop Johnson or Kentucky after that and finished with their 27th straight loss dating back to 2014.

THE TAKEAWAY

Austin Peay: The Governors controlled the initial tempo and drove 69 yards for their first TD. But quarterback Javaughn Craig threw two interceptions and they didn’t cross midfield until the fourth quarter and were outgained 410-284.

“The interception in the red zone, we can’t have happen,” coach Will Healy said. “We still find ways to shoot ourselves in the foot with turnovers, but I though we went toe-to-toe.

Kentucky: Interceptions by Westry and Mike Edwards - the second of which led to the Wildcats’ first TD - offset early holding penalties that erased touchdowns. But Johnson’s entry made the biggest difference in settling down an offense that struggled without him. Johnson completed 5 of 9 passes for 101 yards.

“We just knew we had to settle down a little bit so we could do what we wanted to do as an offense,” Johnson said. “We just had to go out there and do it.”

HERE TO HELP

Kentucky’s 1-2 punch of Snell and Williams were critical to its postseason push that pleased Snell more than breaking Moe Williams’ previous freshman rushing record of 928 yards in 1993.

“I’m glad I got to 1,000 yards,” Snell said, “but I’m happy won as a team, we got to six wins and get to go bowling. The seniors deserved that.”

UP NEXT

Austin Peay: Season over.

Kentucky: The Wildcats visit third-ranked (for now) Louisville (No. 5 CFP) , aiming to end a five-game losing streak against their in-state rival and hand the Cardinals their second consecutive loss.

___

More AP college football: collegefootball.ap.org


Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide