ORLANDO, FLa. (WDRB) – You couldn’t have written a sendoff much more fitting for this historic football team than the one that unfolded on a sunny Tuesday New Year’s Day in Orlando on Tuesday.
Behind an absolutely dominant first half by All-American outside linebacker Josh Allen and a record-setting second half by running back Benny Snell, the No. 16-ranked Wildcats beat No. 12 Penn State 27-24 in Camping World Stadium.
Both players have announced they will depart for the NFL Draft after this game, but but should be remembered as guys, in a time when many headed for the draft are deciding to skip bowl games, who gave everything they had in the final game of their Kentucky careers.
Allen, time and again, disrupted Penn State’s offense in the first half, and late in the half blocked a Nittany Lions field goal attempt to allow the Wildcats to take a 10-7 lead to the half. Allen also had a pair of sacks in the first half, boosted his school-record single-season total to 16 despite drawing two blockers on every snap.
He set the tone for a Kentukcy defense that stopped Penn State and veteran quarterback Trace McSorley on their first series and sniffed out a fake put to set up the Kentucky offense in good field position. The Wildcats could get only a 28-yard Miles Butler field goal after that, but struck again late in the first quarter when Lynn Bowden returned a punt 58 yards for a touchdown that put the Wildcats up 10-0.
Penn State scored on its third play of the second quarter, a one-yard pass from McSorley to Nick Bowers after a 41-yard completion to K.J. Hamler which would’ve been a touchdown if not for a score-saving tackle by Davonte Robinson.
The Kentucky offense gave the Wildcats no first-half scoring. But they came out of the halftime locker room with a purpose.
Snell opened the second half with a 32-yard run, then added a four-yard carry that sparked a 6 play, 65 yard drive. Snell’s two-yard TD run put the Wildcats up 17-7.
After getting the ball back, Snell rambled for 10 yards on UK’s first play from scrimmage, then had carries of four, five and two yards on a drive that ended with a 28-yard Butler field goal.
After a Lonnie Johnson interception and 24-yard return to the UK 34, Terry Wilson hit Bowden for 54 yards, and Snell carried 12 yards straight up the middle for a touchdown to break Kentucky’s record for career rushing yards.
Snell crossed the goal line and sank to his knees, looking up to the sky as his teammates surrounded him. Clearly emotional, he went to the sidelines to embraces from the coaching staff. Snell finished the third quarter with 114 rushing yards on 17 carries, passing Sonny Colllins (3,885 yards from 1972-75) into the top spot on the Wildcats’ career list.
But the Wildcats’ work wasn’t over. Penn State’s McSorley began to heat up. He completed five straight passes, four of them for 18 yards or more. He ran for a one-yard TD in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter, and four and a half minutes later threw to Pat Freiermuth for an 18-yard score that pulled Penn State back within 27-21.
And Kentucky was back on the clock. Penn State added a field goal with more than three minutes left, and Kentucky got the ball back with 4:12 left and all 59,167 fans in the place knew what was coming next.
And they couldn't stop it. Snell got the ball, three yards, four yards, four yards, first down. Four yards, six yards. First down.
That's the mark of greatness. Everyone knows you're going to run it, and you can run it anyway.
Snell finished the game with 26 carries and 144 yards. And Kentucky made history, reaching 10 wins for the first time in 41 years, winning its first bowl game in 10 years.
You couldn't have written it any better.
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