Heartbreak: Kentucky’s late rally comes up short in 37-34 loss to Ole Miss

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Kentucky’s C.J. Conrad makes a gain following a catch in a 37-34 loss to Ole Miss Saturday night at Kroger Field. The loss dropped the Wildcats to 6-3 on the season. (UK Athletics Photo)

By Keith Taylor
Kentucky Today

It took a comeback for Kentucky to defeat Tennessee last week. The Wildcats couldn’t duplicate the feat again Saturday night.

Mississippi quarterback Jordan Ta’amu’s 7-yard touchdown pass to D.K. Metcalf with five seconds remaining lifted the Rebels to a 37-34 triumph over the Wildcats in a wild finish at Kroger Field.

“Obviously a very devastating loss,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said. “You know, the bottom line is we didn’t make enough plays in critical moments. They did.”

The Wildcats (6-3, 3-2 Southeastern Conference) trailed 30-27 late in the fourth quarter after the Rebels scored 13 unanswered to overcome a 27-17 deficit.

Kentucky running back Benny Snell’s 1-yard touchdown run with 2:14 left gave the hosts a 34-30 lead, but gave the Rebels more than enough time to answer with the decisive touchdown.

“I was proud of our offense taking it down and putting it in the end zone there,” Stoops said. “We came up fractions off, and it’s a difficult loss.”

Ta’amu, who started the season as starter Shea Patterson’s backup, threw for 382 yards and four touchdowns to three different receivers, including two to Metcalf. Patterson suffered a season-ending injury and Ta’amu has picked up the slack during since, throwing for more than 300 yards during the past two weeks.

Ta’amu and the Rebels survived a near-fumble on the final drive and converted on third down for the game-winning touchdown with five seconds remaining. It took less than two minutes for Ole Miss to reach the end zone.

“That was more than enough time for us, that I believe and us with our tempo, we just needed to go faster and I knew we were going to score and that’s what we did,” Ta’amu said.

The win was a stark contrast for Ole Miss (4-5, 2-4), which let a 31-7 lead slip away in a 38-37 loss at Arkansas last week.

“Arkansas didn’t matter tonight,” Rebels interim coach Matt Luke said. “It was just about us and about our kids. They fought and they showed up. You know I think in the back of people’s mind everybody was like ‘When are these guys going to quit? When are they going to give up? When are they not going to show up?.’ And they just continued to show up, continued to fight.”

Snell paced Kentucky’s attack with 176 yards rushing on 28 carries and three touchdowns. Quarterback Stephen Johnson threw for 204 yards and a touchdown. He added 22 yards rushing.

Snell said the loss hurt, but isn’t ready to surrender.

“Every loss is the same to me,” Snell said. “Next week I’m going to try to do even better than I did this week, just like I did before. Losses are hard on us and on me especially, but Stoops is going to get us together and we are going to learn and win next week.”

Kentucky scored on its first five possessions, but had four straight 3-and-outs in the second half — three to end the third quarter — that were a major hindrance in the second half.

“We had opportunities to pull away and couldn’t get it done, so it’s a team loss, and each phase had an opportunity to make a difference and didn’t do it,” Stoops said. “That’s the result we get.”

Johnson was nearly flawless in the first half and completed 15-of-16 passes for 127 yards, including a 28-yard strike to Isaiah Epps on 3-and-12 before the half. One play later, Snell’s 1-yard touchdown run gave the Wildcats a 20-17 lead at the break. Johnson completed passes to nine different players in the opening half.

Just as he did in the first half, Johnson was on target to open the second half, completing a 46-yard touchdown strike to C.J. Conrad, giving the Wildcats a 27-17 advantage with 12:27 remaining in the first half.

From that point on, it was a struggle for the Wildcats.

Nifty play: Johnson hauled in a 32-yard pass from Lynn Bowden after tossing the ball to Bowden on a trick play during the second quarter. Two plays later, Snell’s 2-yard touchdown run gave the Wildcats a 13-10 lead with 8:09 remaining in the first half.

Earlier in the nine-play scoring drive, Ole Miss defensive end Breeland Speaks was ejected for targeting on a 6-yard run by Johnson. Bowden, a former high school quarterback has completed 3-of-3 passes for 92 yards this season.

Veterans honored: The Wildcats honored military veterans during the contest, but a game-ball parachute delivery by the Army Golden Knights was canceled because of a low cloud ceiling above Kroger Field. Veterans Day is Saturday, Nov. 11.

Gametracker: Kentucky at Vanderbilt, 4 p.m., Saturday. TV/Radio: SEC Network, 98.1 FM, WBUL, Lexington.

Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at Keith.taylor@kentuckytoday.com or twitter @keithtaylor21.

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