LEXINGTON (AP) — Kentucky coach Mark Stoops admitted he was worried in the final seven minutes of regulation with the Wildcats facing a 14-point deficit to FCS opponent Eastern Kentucky.
But Kentucky rallied with two touchdowns before the end of regulation and another in overtime to defeat the Colonels 34-27 and avoid a stunning upset.
Patrick Towles led the charge, finishing with 329 yards passing and three touchdown passes, including one in the final minute of regulation and one in overtime.
Although his coach was nervous, Towles remained calm in the midst of a storm.
“We are going to fight no matter who we are playing,” Towles said. “We were not going to give up.”
Stoops admitted “it wasn’t looking good” for his squad, which has won all four of its games by eight points or less.
“I am human,” he said. “We were not playing very well on either side of the ball.”
The Wildcats (4-1) trailed 27-13 lead with 7:39 remaining, but JoJo Kemp’s 7-yard TD run with 4:59 remaining followed by Towles’ 5-yard touchdown pass to Dorian Baker with 52 seconds left in regulation tied the score.
Eastern Kentucky (2-2) got the ball back and ran out the clock, forcing the extra period.
The momentum carried over into overtime for the Wildcats. Towles’ 3-yard pass to Baker on Kentucky’s first series gave them the touchdown they needed. The Wildcats stopped Eastern Kentucky on four downs to end the contest.
“Fortunate is the word that jumps out right now,” said Stoops. “Give them credit. I?feel like they coached better than we did. They played with more energy and executed better than we did.”
Kentucky’s offense struggled in the first three quarters before gaining traction. Baker hauled in eight passes for 86 yards and two touchdowns. Blake Bone added seven catches for 85 yards.
Kentucky had a slow start coming off a 21-13 win over then-No. 25 Missouri, though Towles opened the scoring on a 1-yard keeper with 51 seconds remaining in the first quarter. Towles’ run by was set up by his own 40-yard completion to Blake Bone.
Kentucky was without top running back Stanley “Boom” Williams, who missed some time at practice last week while dealing with “personal issues.” Williams, the No. 7 rusher in the Southeastern Conference coming into the contest (85.8 yards per game), was on the sidelines.
Williams’ absence showed, especially in the first half, as the Wildcats rushed for just 23 yards. Kentucky finished with 55 yards rushing, led by Kemp, who had 46 yards on 14 carries.
The Colonels’ inspiring effort came following an emotional week as Eastern Kentucky was mourning the death of teammate Joey Kraemer, who was killed in a single-vehicle accident last week in Richmond. The Colonels wore patches on the front of their jerseys with the initials “JK” in memory of Kraemer, while Kentucky observed a moment of silence to honor Kraemer prior to kickoff.
Bennie Coney threw for 183 yards and two touchdowns, while former Kentucky running back Dy’Shawn Mobley rushed for 74 yards and two touchdowns and had five catches for 50 yards.