Vols tame No. 18 Wildcats in 45-42 thriller
The Vols have now won 18 of the last 20 games played in Lexington.
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -
Tennessee picked up its first win over a ranked opponent since 2018 with a 45-42 win over No. 18 Kentucky Saturday night. The Vols have now won 18 of the last 20 games played in Lexington.
Tennessee couldn’t have asked for a better start in Lexington. Javonta Payton took a screen pass down the sideline 70 yards to the house to get the Vols on the board just a few seconds into the game.
Kentucky responded with a 14 play, 75 yard drive that took 8:36 off the clock to even things up.
It took Tennessee just three more plays to find the end zone for a second time Saturday night. Hendon Hooker connected with Velus Jones Jr. on a 72-yard score on 3rd & 7 to re-take the lead, 14-7.
Kentucky came up empty after another long drive when it missed a 50-yard field goal. Tennessee took over at its own 29 yard line and looked to score on another long pass to Jalin Hyatt. Officials ruled the sophomore stepped out of bounds at the Kentucky 29. Hendon Hooker fumbled the ball away just two plays later.
Kentucky quarterback Will Levis found the end zone to tie the game back up at 14-all. UK put together a 6-play, 71-yard drive to cash in on the Tennessee turnover.
Tennessee shot itself in the foot on its next offensive drive when Javontez Spraggins was called for a hold on 2nd down and Darnell Wright was flagged for tripping on third down. Paxton Brooks punted the ball away to the Kentucky 32 yard line.
Kentucky’s offense continued to keep the ball on the ground on its ensuing drive - rushing eight times on its 11-play, 68 yard touchdown drive that gave the Wildcats their first lead of the game, 21-14.
After a good kickoff return by Velus Jones and a Kentucky penalty, Tennessee set up shop on its own 48-yard line. Tennessee gained a first down in two plays, but started moving backwards after a false start. Hendon Hooker then took a sack, setting up a 3rd and long. Jones made up most of the yardage, but Josh Heupel elected to go for it on fourth down and was rewarded when Cedric Tillman was able to draw a penalty and move the chains. Hooker picked up another 15 yards with his legs before finding Jacob Warren on an 18-yard touchdown pass to tie things back up at 21-21.
Kentucky took over possession with just 1:14 to play in the first half and was able to break off chunk plays of 9, 7 and 14 yards before Tennessee forced a few incompletions and a failed fourth down conversion.
The Vols took over at their own 39-yard line with just 16 seconds left in the first half. Hendon Hooker hit Cedric Tillman three straight times for gains of 8, 13 and 14 yards to set up a Chase McGrath field goal with two seconds left on the clock.
The USC transfer connected on the 43-yard attempt to put Tennessee back in the lead, 24-21 headed into the locker room.
Kentucky’s offense started with the ball to begin the second half. The Wildcats held onto possession for 24 minutes and six seconds during the first 30 minutes of gameplay. The Wildcats put together another long drive - 12 plays, 75 yards - to find the end zone and re-take the lead, 28-24.
Just three plays into Tennessee’s next drive, Jabari Small made a house call.
The Memphis native took the handoff 37 yards untouched to give Tennessee the lead, 31-28.
Tennessee’s first big break in the game came off an Alontae Taylor pick-six that gave the Vols a 10-point lead in the third quarter.
Will Levis connected with go-to receiver Wan’Dale Robinson for a 15 yard touchdown to make it a one-possession game again, 38-35.
Tennessee’s defense came up with a huge stop in its own territory on fourth down. Caleb Tremblay sacked Will Levis for a loss of 12 yards on an all-out blitz that gave the Vols the ball back near mid-field.
After a nine yard gain by Jaylen Wright, Cedric Tillman picked up nearly 40 yards on a circus catch to set the Vols up inside Kentucky territory, but wasn’t done producing on the drive. Hooker placed a perfect ball in the back of the end zone that Tillman was able to haul in - his sixth catch of the night to give the Vols a 45-35 lead.
Kentucky responded with another 75-yard touchdown drive when Levis found Izayah Cummings for a 24 yard score - the last of the game with 9:36 left to go in the game. Tennessee was able to drive inside the Kentucky red zone but came up empty on the possession after Chase McGrath pushed a 35-yard field goal attempt wide right.
The Vol defense would bend, but didn’t break on its final appearance of the night. on a 3rd & 6 on the Tennessee side of the field, Knoxville Catholic grad Tyler Baron sacked Will Levis for a loss of 3 yards and seemingly got away with a facemask that would have given the Wildcats a first down. Both Levis and Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops pleaded with the officials for a penalty, but instead Stoops was hit with a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct that forced his team into a 4th & 24 situation.
Tennessee came out in a prevent defense - rushing just three down linemen - and played soft enough on the back end to give up the first down, but held its own on the next four plays to force a turnover on downs. The Vol offense came back out for one final drive - three straight kneel-downs from a victory formation to seal the 45-42 win.
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