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Keith Taylor: MacGinnis saves his best kick for last in UK’s dramatic 40-38 win over Mississippi State


Kentucky wasn’t perfect and neither was kicker Austin MacGinnis, but perfection wasn’t needed to overcome Mississippi State on Saturday night.

The Wildcats (4-3, 3-2 Southeastern Conference) couldn’t put the pesky Bulldogs away until MacGinnis booted a career-high 51-yard field goal as time expired to lift Kentucky to an exciting 40-38 triumph over Mississippi State.

Austin MacGinnis watches as his game-winning field goal heads toward the posts in a 40-38 win over Mississippi State Saturday night (Bill Thiry Photo)

Austin MacGinnis watches as his game-winning field goal heads toward the posts in a 40-38 win over Mississippi State Saturday night (Bill Thiry Photo)

“We didn’t always execute to perfection,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said. “We seem to like putting some drama in things … But once again, we showed that resiliency and we showed that toughness.”

On his first field goal attempt, McGinnis misfired on a 28-yard chip shot but recovered and made four field goals during the remainder of the contest, including two attempts in the final quarter.

“You always have to put any kick behind you,” he said. “Make or miss, it’s always about the next kick. If you’re thinking about the last kick, you don’t give yourself a chance.”

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For MacGinnis, the game-winner not only gave him personal satisfaction but a feeling of relief after the Wildcats snapped a seven-game losing streak to the Bulldogs. The win also gave Kentucky its third conference win in a season for the first time since 2009.

“It feels so good to get over the hump,” MacGinnis said. We haven’t beaten Mississippi State since I’ve been here, so it felt really good to get the SEC win.”

An issue last season and the previous three years, Kentucky’s special teams, especially the kicking game, have proved to be beneficial this year. McGinnis struggled and missed four field goals and an extra point attempt last year, but has made nine attempts so far this season.

 Players surround Austin MacGinnis after he made the game-winning field goal Saturday night (Elliott Hess Photo, UK Athletics)  Photo by Elliott Hess | UK Athletics

Players surround Austin MacGinnis after he made the game-winning field goal Saturday night (Elliott Hess Photo, UK Athletics)

“It (the kicking game) was brutal,” Stoops said. “He’s a wonderful kid and he works hard, and he’s healthy. Our team has a lot of confidence in him. He told the team (after the game) he was proud to be part of it and get it (the win) for them.”

It took a while for the Wildcats to get back into rhythm following a bye week and they didn’t fully get on track until the second half. Through the struggles, it was MacGinnis who kept the Wildcats within striking distance with a pair of field goals during the first two quarters.

But then, Kentucky, which trailed 14-6 at the break, found a seam in the Bulldogs’ defense and outscored Mississippi State 34-24 in the final two quarters to move within two games of reaching bowl eligibility with five weeks remaining in the regular season.

Despite the success in the second half, it took two field goals by MacGinnis to keep Kentucky’s hopes alive down the stretch as Mississippi State used an 81-yard fumble recovery and a touchdown with 1:09 remaining to overcome a 10-point deficit for a 38-31 advantage in the closing minutes.

Kentucky quarterback Stephen Johnson struggled with a pair of fumbles that resulted in a pair of touchdowns for the guests but he steered the Wildcats into scoring position in the final minute. Johnson made three pass completions for more than 10 yards and added a 6-yard rush, setting the stage for the dramatic finish.

Johnson knew what was coming in those tense and final moments.

“He does it every day in practice,” he said. “I knew he was going to make it, regardless.”

Johnson improved to 3-1 as the team’s starting quarterback and has had a hand in each of Kentucky’s four victories. Johnson completed 17-of-33 passes for 292 yards and a pair of touchdowns, including a 44-yard strike and a 40-yard scoring completion to teammate Jeff Badet, a signal that Johnson is capable of throwing the deep ball with success.

The clincher by MacGinnis not only was the difference between a win and a loss but it gave the Wildcats sole possession of second place in the SEC East, one game ahead of No 18 Tennessee, which was idle following last week’s 49-10 loss to top-ranked Alabama last week.

After opening with two straight losses, Stoops never lost sight of his team’s potential.

“I’m from Youngstown, Ohio,” Stoops said. “We don’t flinch.”

Gametracker: Kentucky at Missouri, Saturday, noon. TV/Radio: SEC Network, 98.1 FM WBUL.

Keith Taylor is a senior sports writer for KyForward, where he primarily covers University of Kentucky sports. Reach him at keith.taylor@kyforward.com or @keithtaylor21 on Twitter


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