Kentucky pulled off one of their biggest wins in school history with a 10-7 win over Tennessee Saturday afternoon. With both quarterbacks injured and unable to go, senior Matt Roark, a wide receiver by trade, took every snap at quarterback until the final possession as he led the Cats to their first victory over the Volunteers since 1984.
In what had been one of the most disappointing seasons in Kentucky’s recent history and failing to be bowl eligible after going to five straight postseason games, Kentucky did the unthinkable and ended the longest active win-streak in the nation. Tennessee had beaten Kentucky 26 consecutive times, with the Wildcats dropping some heartbreakers over the last few years.
After putting up just three points in the first half, the Kentucky defense, as they have all year, held tough and shutout the Volunteers. Kentucky came out with some exotic looks in the first half with Roark as the signal caller for the first time in his career, and the Cats moved the ball with mixed results. It was a different look that they had not displayed at all this year with many designed quarterback runs, option pitches, and screens. But without a legitimate passing threat, the Tennessee defense dropped more men in the box to load up against the Kentucky running attack.
Roark continued to plug away all game, as did CoShik Williams who was a great compliment to Roark’s attack. Roark finished the game with 24 rushing attempts and 124 yards on the ground, while throwing for just 15 yards on 4-6 passing. Williams picked up 68 yards on 21 attempts of his own. Williams picked up some short yards on third and short situations and was consistent all day as the Kentucky rushing attack chipped away at the Tennessee defense.
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The Kentucky defense was brilliant, save one big play by Tennessee Tyler Bray. Bray hooked up with wide receiver Raijon Neal on a 53-yard touchdown for their only score of the game. The defense forced great pressure on Bray for most of the day, especially in the last few drives where the Volunteers had a chance to tie the game. Kentucky forced three turnovers on the day, a fumble and two interceptions including a huge interception by Taeido Smith to seal the deal for Kentucky as Bray had one final chance to put points on the board. Winston Guy had a huge day with 14 tackles, and Danny Trevathan recorded eight tackles in their final game as a Wildcat.
But Matt Roark was truly the hero of the day for Kentucky. Roark’s career had never gotten off the ground the way he had hoped, as he never really played a big role in his first three seasons. With many of Kentucky’s play makers leaving last year, Roark and fellow wideout La’Rod King were forced into those roles, and Roark struggled. He and Newton could never get on the game page, and Roark struggled catching the ball for the first half of the season. As Maxwell Smith took over the reigns, Roark became Smith’s go-to target and he thrived as he racked up career games. With Newton and Smith both unable to go against Tennessee with shoulder injuries, Roark and the offense had three days to learn the game plan for the Tennessee game, and they executed it well. The offensive line held their own, and Roark extended plays and hardly looked lost at the quarterback position. With the help of the defense, Roark will go down in Kentucky history and lore as the first quarterback to beat Tennessee in 26 seasons.
As the Cats took over after the Taeido Smith interception, Newton took the final snaps and ran the clock out. The seniors rejoiced, Joker Phillips exhaled, and the fans stormed the field to celebrate with their team. In a year filled with drama, failure and many questions regarding the future of this program, Kentucky closed the season out with one of the biggest wins in school history, and just maybe the impact of that win will help fans forget the past as Kentucky looks toward the future.