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Sports Notes: Emotions rolling at The New CWS as Wildcats continue to win close ones

Coach Mark Stoops' Wildcats passed a major gut-check moment Saturday with the comeback win over EKU in the kind of game UK used to lose (Bill Thiry Photo)

Coach Mark Stoops’ Wildcats passed a major gut-check moment Saturday with the comeback win over EKU in the kind of game UK used to lose (Bill Thiry Photo)


Under eight minutes were left in the fourth quarter when Eastern Kentucky quieted what was left of a New Commonwealth Stadium crowd of over 63,000 by scoring a touchdown that provided the visitors from the Ohio Valley Conference a daunting 27-13 advantage.

Social media accounts lit up with some variation of the message: “Same old Cats.”

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The truth is, considering what happened from that point and into overtime, Kentucky’s 34-27 comeback win over a very solid FCS Eastern club may just be the first signal that these are the New Cats. Surely many fans who have watched Kentucky over the years will concede that this is just the kind of game the old Wildcats would have found a way to lose.

JoJo Kemp had a big touchdown and Dorian Baker combined with quarterback Patrick Towles on two more scores that first tied the game, then won it in overtime. Had ’em all they way.

“We just had to go out and make big plays,” Towles said after the game. “Our defense got big stops when we needed to and our receivers made plays when we had to. We’re 4-1 and we’re ready for Auburn. We have to play a full game, a full four quarters. I have to play a full four quarters, no doubt about it. But we came back and won. We won the football game. We had more points than them at the end of the game and that’s what matters.”

Kentucky has forged its four wins by a total of 27 points mixed in with a five-point loss to Florida. The average scoring difference between the Wildcats and their opponents this year is less than a touchdown and extra point. This is the first time since 1998 at UK has played five games in a row that were decided by eight points or less. They are 4-1 in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1949-50.

This could all be signs of a team that is in the process of growing up and turning the proverbial corner. The Thursday night home game against Auburn on Oct. 15 will go along way toward showing just how special a season this might turn out to be for Mark Stoops and his Cats.

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The Ohio Valley Conference recognized how close coach Dean Hood’s Colonels came to pulling an upset. Player of the Week honors were bestowed on Stanley Absanon (OVC Specialist of the Week) and Chris Kelly (Co-Defensive Player of the Week) honors.

Absanon came up particularly big with 141 return yards, including a 42-yard kick return to open the third quarter that left Eastern just 54 yards to cover to take a 13-7 lead. His 19-yard punt return early in the fourth quarter gave the Colonels the ball at the UK 26 yard line, which they soon converted into another touchdown and a 20-13 advantage.

Kelly, a senior linebacker from Cold Spring, Kentucky, finished with 11 tackles, a sack and a quarterback hurry against the Wildcats.

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Florida’s surprising 38-10 home win over Mississippi has left the Gators, once considered vulnerable this season, in firm command of the SEC East Division race. Florida is unbeaten in five games, 3-0 in the SEC, with a one-game margin over Kentucky, Georgia and Missouri. The other East teams each have three losses.

Texas A&M, which handled Mississippi State last weekend, and LSU, a 44-22 winner over Eastern Michigan, remain unbeaten in the West Division, one game clear of both Mississippi and Alabama. Bama’s easy rout of conference favorite Georgia on the Dogs’ home field may have been the biggest surprise of the day.

Only Auburn among Kentucky’s next four opponents managed a win with the Tigers taking out San Jose State by 14 points.

There aren’t very many interesting games on the SEC schedule this week. The best is probably is Georgia at Tennessee or Arkansas at Alabama. Florida is at Missouri while South Carolina is hosting LSU.

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Unless someone releases another surprise sex scandal book, this figures to be a relatively quiet sports week in the Bluegrass.

Next week will more than make up for that.

The centerpiece of the week, of course, if the first nationally televised Thursday night (ESPN) home game at The New CWS featuring Auburn and UK. The day before that, John Calipari and the Wildcats will meet reporters for the annual Media Day at Memorial Coliseum.

The night after the Auburn game, Oct. 16, is Big Blue Madness (fans can check any semblance of reasonable expectations for the team at that table over there).

If you survive all that, you still have Keeneland on Saturday and Sunday. Fun times in the Commonwealth.

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