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UK overcomes early struggles to earn 27-13 win over Central Michigan


With just over four minutes remaining in the third quarter Saturday, the University of Kentucky football team appeared on the verge of losing a game to Mid-American Conference opponent Central Michigan.

 

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The Wildcats trailed 13-6, when Central Michigan elected to go for a fourth down conversion on fourth and inches from its own 34 yard line. UK stuffed running back Tim Phillips behind the line of scrimmage to force a turnover on downs, and junior quarterback Morgan Newton hit junior wide receiver La’Rod King for a 34-yard touchdown reception on the next play to even the game at 13.

 

“The turning point was the fourth down,” said UK head coach Joker Phillips. “Our defense did a good job on fourth-and-inches of stopping them, then our offense did a good job of converting to get us back in the game.”

 

UK forced a punt on the next Central Michigan drive, then freshman tailback Josh Clemons broke a tackle before running away from the Central Michigan secondary on an 87-yard touchdown run to give the Wildcats a 20-13 lead.

 

The play was the longest rush by a freshman and fourth longest rush by any player in in program history.

 

“I was just trying to make a play out there,” Clemons said. “The team was down a little bit, we needed it bad.

 

“I tried to run it up in there and stuff it hard, but the guy didn’t wrap up and I felt it, so I just busted outside.”

 

UK put the game out of reach in the fourth quarter, when Newton ran a naked bootleg for a score on fourth and goal from the one yard line.

 

“We made plays when we needed to,” Phillips said. “That’s the name of the game.”

 

Coming off a game in which UK totaled just 190 yards against Western Kentucky, the Cats offense sputtered throughout the first half in the home opener Saturday.

 

UK appeared to take an early lead with a touchdown pass on its first drive, but senior receiver Matt Roark dropped a pass in the end zone to force a field goal attempt.

 

“We’ve got to make the plays we are capable of making,” Phillips said. “We’re more than capable of making the one we didn’t make on the first drive.”

 

At halftime, UK trailed 13-6 and had been out-gained 227 yards to 94. Newton had just 71 passing yards, had been sacked twice and had thrown one interception deep in the opponent’s red zone.

 

 

After surrendering scores on each of the first three Central Michigan possessions, UK’s defense did not surrender a score for the remainder of the game.

 

“The good thing is our team did not panic when we got down,” Phillips said. “They did not panic. At halftime we told them, ‘just relax, play, gout out there and play with with enthusiasm, have fun doing it, and good things will happen.'”

 

Despite struggling on offense for much of the first two games, UK enters its week-three matchup versus in-state rival Louisville at 2-0.

 

“I think there was progress,” Phillips said. “We definitely played better. We didn’t play very clean in the first half, but I thought we played pretty clean in the second half.”

 

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Photos by Mark Boxley.


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